I wanted to like , the former Hyde Square coffee shop nestled between a liquor store and the perennial Chinese take-out joint, but I never got around to it—my experiences deemed the coffee weak and the service surly. So when the place , I wasn't surprised, and like other nosy JP neighborhood foodie watchers, I wondered what would become of the tiny vacancy on Centre.
When buzz spread about an Ethiopian restaurant taking over the lease, it seemed everyone was elated. Ethiopian food isn't necesarily as exotic as it sounds, and, typically heavy on flavorful vegetarian offerings, the cuisine seemed an obvious fit for the JP palette. The city licensing got underway early this year, and Blue Nile finally opened for business in late September. And it was completely worth the wait.
The space is small and only allows for about ten tables, and purists might lament the absence of the woven traditional mesob tables usually associated with Ethiopian dining. Still, the place seems bigger than it is (it seats about 25) and dining is comfortable and uncramped. As an expected ode to the Ethiopian homeland, there are gorgeous landscape portraits and traditional African bric-a-brac placed throughout, selected by owner Ellena Haile, who formerly owned and operated an Ethiopian restaurant at the intersection of Huntington and South Huntington Avenue.
"It was a tough spot there and we had a hard time getting the business we wanted " she says. "But this new location is perfect…it's in the middle of everything!"
Haile is a native of Ethiopia and the name of restaurant reflects her familial roots in the country's Blue Nile River area.
The Hyde Square location is convenient for sure, but it's the food that's been creating all the buzz. Most traditional main meals of Ethiopia consist of two parts: Injera, a large round, spongy flat bread made from Teff, an Ethiopian grain, and Wet (also seen as Wat or Wot on Ethiopian menus), a stew or sauce mainly made from meats, legumes and spices. There are no utensils offered or needed here—food is served over a giant piece of house-made injera, and the spongy bread soaks up the flavors of the food. Injera bread on the side is the vehicle for scooping up the savory offerings with your fingers.
Sambosas, golden deep-fried turnovers stuffed with spicy lentils, spinach or beef, are popular starters, and the cottage cheese salad (Ayeb Begomen) with hot seasoned cayenne pepper is (oddly) welcome and refreshing. Lentils rule the vegetarian-friendly menu here—find them simmered in a hot Berbere sauce (made with an uniquely Ethiopian spice blend of garlic, red pepper and other spices), in the lentil salad with shallots and chili peppers (Azefa), or cooked with red onion, olive oil, ginger and turmeric (Yekik Alicha). Carrots and string beans with caramelized onions, ginger and garlic (Yayakilt Wet) are slippery and both savory and sweet, and the cabbage, potatoes and chili pepper stew with cardamom (Tikil Gommen) is an interesting textural and spicy option.
While predominantly vegetarian-friendly, the menu boasts a few meat dishes as well. Kitfo, an herbed butter-soaked minced beef dish is seasoned with Mitmita, a hot ground chili powder. The heat of the dish is intense but not at all unpleasant, and while it's traditionally served rare it can be cooked to any preference. A milder dish is the Ye Siga Alicha, tender beef simmered with onion, ginger and turmeric. The Lega Tibs is a standard on Ethiopian menus—tenderloin pieces of beef sauteed with onions, fresh tomatoes, chili peppers and herbed butter. The menu's lone chicken dish, the Doro Wet, is a mammoth chicken leg sauteed with red onions, ginger, Berbere sauce and herbed butter, served with a hard-cooked egg.
On the value scale, Blue Nile brings it—all vegetarian plates are offered for under $10 and meat dishes don't top $11. Vegetarian combos are popular orders: The “JP Veggie Combo” combines four vegetarian dishes for one ($10.99) or two ($19.99) and the “Vegetarian Revenge” combos plates six vegetable dishes and an appetizer for one ($12.99) or two ($23.99). The “Nile Combo”, for $12.99, serves up a meat dish with three vegetables, and the “Centre Street Combo” offers two meat dishes with a vegetarian side.
Owner Haile holds court as Blue Nile’s affable hostess, and a team of knowledgeable and efficient servers round out the place’s superb service.
Seemingly at home among Hyde Square’s neighboring Scottish, Chinese and Dominican eateries, in a community prideful of its diversity and worldly cuisine preferences, there’s no question that Blue Nile will prosper. The only query is what took it so long to get here.
Welcome to the neighborhood, Blue Nile.
The Blue Nile is open for both lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Sunday from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Takeout and delivery is available.