If you want Ethiopian food in this city, you're pretty much limited to one style of restaurant: the dark, warm, clove-scented places with more or less the same menu, prices, and general dining experience. Awash in the East Village is probably my favorite of the bunch, particularly for its tartare, but I'm always on the hunt for more in other parts of the city.
A new entry to the mix is Bunna Cafe, a series of pop-ups around North Brooklyn bars, cafes, and outdoor events. On my visit, the pop-up was set in the back garden of a bar, and $10 awarded me a full plate with six dishes and a couple rolls of injera. With beer in hand and the sun on my face, the meal felt more like a picnic than a restaurant visit—something I could get used to.
Though some of the dishes hit home more than others, it's nice to have a plate of Ethiopian food that's yours alone, one where you don't feel compelled to devour the entire 24-inch serving platter for the table. Anyone else have this problem? I do every time.
Bunna Cafe's selection sticks to vegetarian (vegan, actually, though you wouldn't know it) classics: legume pulses, stewed vegetables, some salads, and homemade injera. Red lentil misor wot is a dark, moody standout with a careful balance of chili with sweet spice; their gomen, steamed kale with potatoes and sweet carrots, has that satisfying dark green feeling without stewing the vegetables to death or overloading them with spice. And if some other dishes are less successful, the vegetables make up for it with a brightness Ethiopian restaurants often ignore. Worth noting: all the food is served cool, which makes it feel like an Ethopian picnic all the more, and a summer-appropriate one.
The pop-ups are the work of Sam Saverance, whose academic work brought him to Ethiopia four years ago. He fell in love with the country's cuisine, and one year ago partnered with a veteran of New York's restaurant industry and an Ethiopian home cook to start the cafe. Bunna Cafe has recently been selling at street festivals, outdoor events, and in cafes, as well as hosting private dinner parties—all in North Brooklyn, about once a week. This weekend, they'll be up at Harlem's Cafe Addis. Later in September, they'll be throwing a party to celebrate Ethiopian new year in Brooklyn. The team hopes to open their own cafe in Brooklyn in a year.