Wickenden is already known for its internationality, but Abyssinia, the latest addition to the neighborhood, fills a previously unoccupied niche with its Ethiopian and Eritrean comfort food. The restaurant, which just opened at the end of March, fills the space formerly occupied by Angkor (which is now a few blocks down, on Traverse Street–whew).
Ethiopian cuisine hasn’t caught on everywhere, but considering its deliciousness quotient, it’s hard to explain why. Its foundation, literally and figuratively, is injera, a spongy fermented flatbread which is torn off and used as a utensil. Right now, while they settle into the new digs, the menu is small in scope, which makes it nicely navigable but also tricky because it’s limited (don’t take a picky eater here). Most main dishes are wots, or hearty stews that are best described as a cross between Indian curries and soul food. The cardinal difference is that, while soul food usually involves bacon, most Ethiopian vegetarian dishes (and all veg dishes at Abyssinia) are actually vegan. Mittin shiro wot, or ground split peas simmered in berbere (a spice blend of peppers, garlic, ginger, and fenugreek) is creamy, spicy, and nourishes in ways you never imagined a silly vegetable could. Vegetarian sambussas are an Ethiopian riff on the samosa, with an ethereal, greasy shell encasing a spot-on blend of lentils, sweet onions and herbs. Carnivores, too, have several solid options, such as key wot, a beef dish in a dark, gravy-esque sauce with a good kick of heat. Doro wot is lemony sautéed chicken stewed in a spicy red pepper sauce and topped with a hard-boiled egg.
The unique seasoning in everything gives it all a surprising complexity, but some dishes are heavy enough that a giant heap of one thing might get boring. Lucky for you, there is a clever alternative: the ever-alluring combo plate. This is what you should order. The vegetarian sampler lets you taste all five vegetarian entrées as well as a green salad and ye’denich salata, a dish of diced beets and potatoes in the most spectacular shade of fuchsia. The meat sampler comes with smaller portions of all these things plus your choice of two meat entrées. Portions are generous but not gluttonous.
Other notes: the dining room seats around 18 people and has been known to fill up quickly on weekend nights, so it’s best to call ahead. There is a lunch menu, it’s BYOB, and it’s open daily. What more could you ask for?
High: This is the first Ethiopian place in Providence, here to help us branch out from the pizza/Indian/sushi triumvirate to some damn tasty new goods.
Low: The menu is limited. We can only hope that it will soon expand, at least to include milder dishes for fussy eaters.
Bottom line: Low prices, quick service, exotic food, and convenient location will make Abyssinia a quick favorite among the College Hill crowd.