Nitsuh Woldemariam wasn't especially fond of plain ayib, the crumbly fresh cheese that's a staple of Ethiopian cookery, so she started mixing it with threads of spicy collards. It's an inspired addendum - the bitterness of the greens lashes the sourness of the granular white cheese - and speaks volumes about Woldermariam's sharp kitchen instincts.
For many Charlestonians, just having an Ethiopian restaurant in town would count as a victory. Yet Woldermariam's Ethiopian Taste Food & Coffee (which I discovered by eavesdropping on a tweet from @CharlestonFood) isn't a mere quota-filler: The restaurant, which opened earlier this month, is serving up accomplished dishes likely to please longtime fans of the genre and convert eaters new to the cuisine.
There are very few Ethiopians in Charleston, although the community's grown with the arrival of Boeing. But Woldermariam's husband (he and Woldermariam's mother, who helps with the cooking, compose the entirety of the staff) told me the restaurant is designed to appeal to everyone. The well-lit dining room is spacious and tidy, and I'd guess the supremely hospitable Woldermariams wouldn't flinch if customers asked for forks.
More importantly, though, the food is terrific. When I visited last weekend, I didn't sample the doro wot, sometimes described as the true test of Ethiopian cooks, but I was taken with the subtle spicing, varied textures and saturated colors on a sampler plate of simmered split peas, lentils, cabbage and sauteed string beans. Woldermariam daily makes pita bread - puffy, irregular ovals that recall the pinnacle of Sunday morning pancake sessions - and injera.
The spicing of the lamb tibs is regionally slippery: The mix of cubed meat and onions could have originated almost anywhere in the Mediterranean, although the ambiguity's easily remedied with a dash of berbere (a classically Ethiopian mix of a dozen spices that runs heavy on the chile pepper) from a side dish. Like all entrees, it's served with two slices of Italian bread, a mound of green salad (holdovers from Ethiopia's colonial period, like the pasta and tiramisu on the thrifty menu) and rolls of spongy injera.
Tibs is typically a tomato-swamped stew, making the injera obligatory. Here, the meat's served dry, but that's no reason to skip the foamy, sour flatbread. In cities with dozens of Ethiopian restaurants, the injera is unchanging, because every restaurateur buys from the same bakery: It's a treat to eat in a dining room which produces its own version of the teff (an ancient North African cereal grass)-based mainstay.
Woldermariam has never before cooked professionally: Since she and her husband moved here from Ohio a few years ago, she's worked in health care. But friends and relatives urged her to open a restaurant; Ethiopian Taste Food & Coffee is a testament to the wisdom of their advice.
Ethiopian Taste Food & Coffee, 5060 Dorchester Road, is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 1-9 p.m. Sundays. (The posted hours differ slightly from the hours on the website, which differ slightly from the hours on the restaurant's business card. If you're planning on a late dinner, call first.)
Credit cards are accepted, and the restaurant serves beer and wine.
For more information, call 647-1792 or go to ethiopiantastefoodandcoffee.com.
Edmund's Oast excites with mild ale
Folks who paid $85 to attend a day's worth of Garden & Gun's inaugural Jubilee earlier this month bought the chance to enjoy the sunshine at Charles Towne Landing, mingle with the editors of the swanky magazine and meet many of the craftsmen who've been profiled in its pages. Mostly, though, their tickets allowed them to shop, much the way an airline trip comes with a SkyMall catalog.
The Edmund's Oast beer samples, though, were free. The forthcoming pub poured four brews, including an English-style mild ale made with British yeast, British hops, British malt and Charleston Tea Plantation black tea.
"It's fusing British traditions with the New World," says brewer Cameron Read, who based the Jubilee Brew's chocolate-leaning flavor profile on a Darjeeling truffle he discovered at Asheville's French Broad Chocolates. Read adds that the brewpub at 1081 Morrison Drive, set to open next month, will be grounded in a similar concept.
Milds are typically dark in color and short on hops. Once an enormously popular beer category in the U.K., milds are rarely seen in the U.S. "It's a really obscure style," Read says.
Because the ale doesn't age well, it's not a good candidate for export. And American craft brewers have long ignored milds because of their extremely low alcohol content. The Jubilee Brew is 3.5 percent ABV, "which is almost taboo in a craft beer," Read says.
"Don't get me wrong," he adds. "If you drink enough, you will get intoxicated."
Because of its overwhelming popularity at Jubilee, the Edmund's Oast crew plans to rebrew the ale for its pub, where it will be labeled as Lord Proprietors.
Republic dispenses with chef position
Two months after declaring "the culinary team is in flux," Republic Reign has settled its chef challenges by downgrading its kitchen.
"Republic is moving forward with less of a spotlight on its kitchen and more of a focus on the overall experience," writes Grace Newland, publicist for the concertedly swanky King Street lounge which opened this spring.
Republic's opening chef, Ben Harris, left the restaurant in October for a chef position with SERG Restaurant Group's forthcoming Poseidon Coastal Cuisine and Rooftop Bar in Hilton Head. The following month, Newland reported that Republic's owners were conducting interviews for his replacement.
"We do anticipate a new menu, which will continue to focus on contemporary bar fare," she wrote in November.
But the lounge ultimately backed away from its plans, opting to leave the chef job unfilled. In other words, if your evening plans include Republic, eat somewhere else first.
Peninsula Grill tops with Zagat voters
Asked to choose "their favorite restaurant" in Charleston, Zagat voters picked Peninsula Grill.
The restaurant scored 29 points for food, 28 points for decor and 29 points for service, ratings comparable to New York's Le Bernardin, where - according to Zagat's report - its costs $102 more per person to dine.
According to an explanatory blurb accompanying the winners' list, which included the top restaurants from 36 U.S. cities, "this 'classic dining room' with 'loads of Southern charm' offers 'gastronomic bliss' in the form of 'sublime' 'interpretations of Lowcountry classics' presented with 'flair'."
Other Southeastern restaurants which finished atop the poll include Cochon Butcher in New Orleans, Etch Restaurant in Nashville, Tenn., and Bacchanalia in Atlanta.
New bakeshop open on James Island
After spending a cumulative seven years in the pastry department of The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Robyn Luckhaus and Larry Brubaker learned how to accommodate any request on deadline and how to make enormous figures out of chocolate. Luckhaus says they're bringing both skills to their new James Island sweets shop, sensibly called Luckhaus & Brubaker.
The pair renovated the former Athens Express Pizza and Cafe so the 1,200-square-foot shop would accommodate their seasonal displays. For this month's grand opening, they created 5-foot-tall chocolate palm trees and a sunning Santa made out of brown sugar.
"It's the kind of thing you have to come in and see," Luckhaus says.
Yet Luckhaus adds the images of elaborate confections on the shop's Facebook page shouldn't scare off prospective patrons: "We're not pricing ourselves out of the market," she says. "We're a very accessible sweets shop."
Luckhaus and Brubaker left The Sanctuary in October. Prior to becoming executive pastry chef at The Sanctuary, Brubaker was the pastry chef for the Old Edward Inn in Highlands, N.C.
Located at 1939 Maybank Highway, Luckhaus & Brubaker Sweets and Treats is open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, call 704-604-6533.
NYT wine critic on Hilton Head fest roster
If you don't want to disembark the festival train after the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival wraps up on March 9, you can keep rolling on to the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival, which starts the following day.
Tickets are now on sale for the six-day festival, which boasts "the largest outdoor tented public wine tasting on the East Coast."
Now in its 29th year, the festival is highly wine-centric. More than 850 wines are entered in the event's International Wine Competition, which is conducted in late January, and New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov is planning to join the Grand Tasting on March 14.
The festival schedule also includes wine seminars and wine dinners. For more information, go to hiltonheadwineandfood.com.
Pichi-pichi for Christmas
For its first holiday season, Kusina is putting together trays of the Filipino sweets that customers tend to crave come Christmastime.
Although the Goose Creek grocery and bakery hasn't yet finalized its Christmas tray menu, the Thanksgiving selection included putong puti (rice muffins), kutchinta (gelatinous rice cakes), pichi-pichi (steamed grated cassava) and espasol (another kind of rice cake, for which rice flour is mixed with coconut milk.)
"It's not the normal kind of dessert you see at Publix," owner Leah Oboza says.
Other sweets available at Kusina include iced spongecakes, desserts made with ube and jackfruit, and coffee-flavored cakes.
Kusina, 142-A St. James Ave., is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays (except on Wednesdays, when it doesn't open at all) and Saturdays. On Sunday, the store is open from noon-6 p.m.