With some restaurants, part of the adventure is getting there in the first place, especially during road construction season. This might be the case, especially for Northsiders, when it comes to Major Restaurant (1150 S. Mickley Ave.), an Ethiopian eatery that's been open about a year on the city's Southwest side.
But for those with a yen for the unique flavors and textures of Ethiopian cuisine - or for those who'd like to give it a try - a trip to Major (the owner's family name) is worth the effort.
Actually, the place isn't that hard to find. Major is located in a Mom and Pop strip, a stone's throw from I-465, about a block from the intersection of W. Washington St. and Morris. The exterior isn't terribly prepossessing, but upon entering you'll find yourself in an immaculate, cheerfully decorated space with rows of tables bedecked with freshly laundered green tablecloths. There's also a slightly elevated section where diners can sit at traditional Ethiopian baskets, which open to reveal a surface suitable for the social experience that is at the heart of a good Ethiopian meal.
Ethiopian food is eaten with one's fingers - silverware is beside the point. A variety of vegetarian and meat dishes are proffered on injera
, the thin, spongy bread that also comes to the table in rolls, from which strips are torn and used to wrap and deliver such delicacies as Ye Misir Watt (red lentils stewed in onion, garlic and ginger; $9.50), Shiro (legumes prepared with ginger root, rue seed, bishop's weed and garlic; $9.50), Doro (a chicken drumstick marinated in lemon then stewed with onions, garlic and ginger and served with a hard boiled egg), and Minchetabish (finely diced beef fried with ginger, onion, cardamom and white pepper and sautéed in a spicy sauce; $12.00). This is a great way to dine with friends and for couples, well, it brings the seduction scene in Tom Jones
My companion and I decided to share the Major Combination for two ($30.00), a platter covered with a large round of injera highlighted with generous scoops of meat and vegetarian dishes, including fresh green salad with a light but tangy dressing that did a nice job of off-setting the spices.
Spices, by the way, are used judiciously at Major - less for heat than for flavor. Everything we sampled tasted fresh and freshly cooked. This meant that our meal arrived at what seemed, for lunch time, anyway, a rather leisurely pace, but that the flavors were bright and the colors vivid, contributing to a presentation that managed to be simultaneously sumptuous and elegant.
Our only regret was that we didn't have appetite enough to try Major's appetizers - Beef and Vegetarian Sambussas ($4.50 and $3.00 respectively) or the Tomato Fitfit, a summery blend of tomato, green pepper, onion, beets and dry wine mixed with injera ($6.00).
Major serves wine and imported beers, not to mention Ethiopian coffee, home roasted and served in a clay pot with incense.
All in all, if you take the time to find this place, you may discover that you don't want to leave.