Friday, June 26, 2009
Food: Kafa Café
You first heard about Kafa Café from me when I volunteered at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's Mango Festival last year. Kafa Café was a vendor at the event, serving such great Ethiopian food, I went back for seconds the next day of the festival.
Kafa Café opened two years ago in midtown Miami. While waiting for permits from the City of Miami to serve beer and wine for dinner, and while revamping the kitchen to accommodate a large exhaust fan above the stove, the restaurant focused on American-style breakfast and lunch service.
Fast forward to May, when I attended the 100 Days of Obama event held at Kafa Café and enjoyed yet another plate of incredible food. Ethiopian cuisine is now available for dinner, which is something I'd been looking forward to since last summer.
It paid to be patient. As owner Ebe Tedla told me: "We weren't in a hurry. We wanted to do things right."
And right they did. Kafa Café is just east of the tracks in midtown, on the periphery of the Design District. While the locale is small and unassuming, the food is far from it. I like to think my palette is sophisticated, but not jaded enough, to ever tire of such bold flavors. Even Thai, which I love, seems to pale in comparison.
Ebe told me he hired and flew in a cook from Ethiopia to oversee food preparation, though members of Ebe's family, including his co-owner sister, are involved in running the restaurant. Dry ingredients, such as beans, spices and teff, the grain that makes Injera bread, also come from the mother country.
At the Obama event, I was just as impressed as I was at Fairchild last year when I sampled a platter of all the Ethiopian classics. Injera bread is spongy and slightly sour; shaped like a tortilla, it helps mop up all the sauces, lentils and vegetables made with fragrant spices -- garlic, ginger, red peppers, tumeric -- to name a few.
All served up on a plate, Ethiopian food may look sloppy to those not yet seduced by its heady flavors. And the idea of using Injera as well as your fingers instead of cutlery may be a turn off to dainty eaters. But trust me, each item on that plate is clearly distinguishable, bite by bite. And as for eating with your hands? No different than pizza or fried chicken or petit fours! Get over it and dig in. (Cutlery is also available, of course.)
Ethiopian Honey Wine helps wash it all down and if you like sweet, you'll be in heaven. Imagine something slightly lighter than honey itself, well-chilled, providing the perfect compliment to the savory food.
Now, I'm a heat freak when it comes to spices, but the food I sampled was not overwhelmingly spicy at all, which is good news for those who prefer moderate to low heat.
Ebe and his family take great pride in their work. He told me he was happy to host the Obama event because he feels compelled to be connected with the community. "We help each other," he said. By offering an inexpensive yet abundant buffet, and by hosting the event at the restaurant, Ebe helped support a number of community non-profits looking to recruit volunteers.
In a city with come-and-go restaurants, it's refreshing to see a hard-working family supporting local causes and providing great food at reasonable prices. As of today, you won't spend more than $15 on any entrée.
My favorites: Doro Wot (chicken with berbere, a red pepper sauce with seasoned butter) and the Kik Alitcha, (split yellow peas). The Yatakilt Wot (chopped cabbage, carrots and potatoes), as well as Gomen Wot (collard greens), make the perfect accompaniments.
The food at Kafa Café is delicious and even more so because it's home-cooked and unpretentious. We like that kind of thing around here! For me, it's like comfort food with an exotic twist. Come here enough and I'm sure you'll feel the same way.
Kafa Café serves some Ethiopian items at lunch, but the full menu is available only at dinner.
3535 Northeast Second Avenue
Miami, FL 33137
Breakfast 8:30 am - 11:00 am
Lunch 11:00 am - 2:30 pm
Dinner 5:00 pm to 10:oo pm
A sneak-peek behind the scenes in Kafa Café's kitchen with owner Ebe Tedla and other members of the family.