Veggie Girl: Kereje

Behind a beaded curtain at one of Kereje's secluded booths this Sunday, my dinner companion for this week's culinary adventure equated our situation--my situation, really, since he's Taiwanese--to entry #71 on the blog Stuff White People Like: "Being the only white person around."

In other words, everyone else at Kereje was Ethiopian. But I took it to be more a sign of the food's authenticity than of my epitome-of-a-white-person preferences.

When the food came, it was too good (and I too hungry) for me to care why exactly I had come. As loud African music eclipsed the sounds of sportscasters emanating from the big-screen by the bar, we dug in to vast, steaming plates of meat (for my companion), bread and vegetables.

The lunch and dinner menu has just seven options, all of which are served with injera, the traditional Ethiopian flatbread that looks like an enormous, spongy crepe and tastes like sourdough.

There's only one vegetarian option at Kereje (which means "peace"): the vegetarian combo, which from its description on the menu sounds like just lentils. In reality, though, the combo consists of one massive, round piece of injera laid flat across a metal tray and adorned with seven little piles of different vegetarian dishes (all dairy-free, the waitress assured me). In the center, a marinated tomato, onion and jalapeno salad; around the edges, several multicolored variations on lentil stew, curried cabbage and potatoes, sautéed collard greens, and one mysterious orange puree that tasted like cashews.

It's traditional to eat Ethiopian food with your hands, tearing off pieces of floppy injera and using it to scoop up chunks of spiced vegetables or meat. Though there's only one choice for vegetarians, the veggie combo still provides ample opportunity for option-oriented eating. It's like Indian thali: You get to try everything, and you can mix if you're a mixer or separate if you're one of those people who can't stand for your curried yellow lentils to touch your sweet-and-spicy red lentils. Emerging with clean hands is almost impossible, but that's part of the fun.

We lingered a while, discussing the merits of having a steady job (good for survival; bad for international adventuring), our top travel destinations (he: Hungary; I: the Congo), and such. In plenty of restaurants, sitting for hours in the best booth is the ultimate in poor diner etiquette, but this Sunday evening, traffic was slow but for a steady trickle of men who came for a beer and a glimpse of sports TV. The servers were patient and unobtrusive, and the mood was laid-back. Finally, we paid our bill ($9.99 each) and left, vowing to come back soon.

When I rendezvoused with my mother--my primary partner in veganism--she reported that Sol's Nieto (Mockingbird & Abrams) has veggie enchiladas they're willing to make without the cheese. At long last...the culmination of my quest for Veggie Mex?

7015 Greenville Avenue #300 (just north of Park)