cMillan and Calhoun streets near the University of Cincinnati have long been a home for ethnic food. Diverse options of mostly Asian fare, along with other mom-and-pop restaurants, have remained a staple even as construction has changed much of area’s landscape. One of the newest additions to U Square @ the Loop, the multi-use shopping/dining/housing/parking development, is Elephant Walk Injera and Curry House.
Elephant Walk is one of only three Ethiopian restaurants in our city — the other two are Habesha in Westwood and Emanu in Pleasant Ridge. Unlike the others, however, Elephant Walk also offers Northern Indian cuisine. (The married couple that owns the restaurant has divided the menu equally, representing their respective cultures; they also run Dusmesh Indian restaurant across from Cincinnati State.)
Early on a Wednesday evening, my boyfriend and I decided to check out this new experience. Being Cliftonites, we have strong opinions on our favorite Indian restaurants, but neither of us had had the pleasure of digging into Ethiopian food before. We were seated immediately by a friendly and relaxed wait staff. The restaurant is quite a bit larger than the older and more familiar haunts on the street, and it feels clean and fresh, with orange walls and granite tabletops.
Shortly after being seated, a staff member informed us that wine was half-price that day. (It turns out bottles of wine are actually half-price from 3-7 p.m. daily.) Even though the wine menu is a nice size with reasonable prices, we stuck with water. In terms of the food menu, one side is all Ethiopian and the other side Indian. My boyfriend has a gluten-sensitivity and was pretty ecstatic to learn that the whole menu was gluten free.
The Indian side looked familiar to us — the standards were all there. But as newbies, none of the Ethiopian menu items were anything we’d heard of. The waitress was helpful in explaining the items we had questions about and each dish had listed ingredients. We ordered one appetizer to share and an entrée each from the Ethiopian menu.
The first item to arrive was the Ayib Begomen ($5). Four rolled-up pieces of bread — known as injera — arrived with a filling of seasoned collard greens and cheese. Injera, traditionally made out of teff flour, is a staple of Ethopian cuisine; the flat bread tastes like a warm, fluffy, spongy pancake had a baby with a loaf of sourdough. The texture is a little gummy and quite stretchy, which was a new experience, but it’s more delicious than it probably sounds. We agreed the appetizer was delightful. The flavor was familiar; my boyfriend remarked that it reminded him a bit of Mediterranean grape leaves.
Most Ethiopian dishes consist of little piles of meat and/or vegetables in a sauce, served on a large round of injera, surrounded by additional rolls of injera. These dishes are often meant to be shared: the combo plates serve two or four. Customarily, you tear off a piece of injera and use it to pinch and grab up a bit of one of the piles, and then toss it down the hatch.
I elected to try the Inguday Tibs ($9). The dish — mushrooms, onions and peppers in a red sauce — arrived hot with a side of injera. It was a bit sweet and very light, rather simple and not too saucy. Paired with the bread, the dish filled my belly quickly.
My boyfriend chose the Beyeayentu combo #2 ($23); this large dish is meant to serve two. Three generous piles of meat arrived on a silver platter. One heap was Gored Gored, beef in a red sauce with peppers and onions that was similar to my Inguday Tibs, but a little richer and with more spice. The second was Lega Tibs, sautéed cubes of lamb without sauce and unseasoned; my boyfriend remarked that they were a bit bland. The final item was Kitfo, a finely chopped mound of beef with a flavor reminiscent of spiced gyro meat.
Unable to resist trying a new version of my favorite Indian dish, I also carried out an order of Saag Paneer ($10) with garlic naan ($3). I found it to be quite different from what I’m used to. It had a rather thick consistency, less oily and creamy than I expected. The flavor was earthy with a nice punch of spice — I ordered a five on the scale of one-to-six and it was just as spicy as any other five in town.
Go: 170 W. McMillln St., Clifton Heights
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Sunday.