Photos by Justin Fox Burks
Owner Ermyias Shiberou's son, Addis, tears into a lentil sandwich, a favorite on the lunch menu at Blue Nile Ethiopian Kitchen.
After sharing plump kabobs, soulful stews, and a whole red snapper — fried crispy, head on, and wide-eyed on its plate —tiramisu, the only dessert on Blue Nile’s menu, may seem out of place. Order it anyway. Owner Ermyias Shiberou turns the ubiquitous Italian dessert into a sensuous slice of fluffy perfection using cocoa, rum, ladyfingers, mascarpone, French press coffee, and cream hand-whipped with organic vanilla. The tiramisu also comes with a history lesson, reflecting the culinary cultures that blended after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia before the start of World War II.
“People move around, and the food comes with them,” Shiberou explains. “My mom makes spaghetti sauce that is so good, you would think she’s Italian.”
Integral to the Blue Nile kitchen, Yemesirach Sahle saves the spaghetti sauce for home, focusing instead on injera, the spongy flat bread rolled like napkins and used to scoop up traditional dishes such as kitfo, a type of steak tartare seasoned with spicy clarified butter and served with collard greens and soft house-made cheese. Made with a tiny fermented grain called Teff, injera’s slightly tangy taste makes easy friends with Blue Nile’s unique spice combinations, which include turmeric, garlic, rosemary, cloves, chili peppers, and other imports not easily translated into English.
Located on Madison Avenue next to The Bar-B-Q Shop, the restaurant for Shiberou follows his popular food truck Stickem, a business he still operates. He spent a year turning Blue Nile from a Pizza Hut delivery kitchen into a pleasing restaurant space with repurposed materials (the brass lion head bar railing came from Southland Park) and a colorful folk art mural painted by local artist Gina Sposto.
Crowds have been brisk and appreciative since Blue Niles’ opening in late June, thanks in part to help from Shiberou’s wife and son, Jennifer and Jonathan Shiberou, and sister-in-law, Tamara Krausser, who all work at the restaurant. Blue Nile’s generous policy on wine is another crowd-pleaser, Shiberou says: “People love not having to pay cork fees, and I love to see customers coming back.”
1788 Madison Avenue (901-474-7214) $-$$