Editor’s Note: Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant is now closed.
You certainly can’t fault Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant for being overly fussy. This straight-down-the-middle first-generation Ethiopian eatery located in the former Raja’s Mahal spot on Franklin Ave. serves classic dishes in an unpretentious manner, with no frills, fusion twists, or updates whatsoever. It therefore lives and dies on its ingredients and technique — and happily, it lives quite vibrantly.
On a recent visit, everything ordered was somewhere between satisfactory and delicious — the quality of meat was good, spicing was profound (with pure, assertive notes of rosemary and cardamom appearing in multiple dishes without shouting down other flavors in the mix), and the injera refills were prompt. They were necessary, too, as the spongy bread-used-as-utensil was in short supply as it was gobbled down along with the contents of an abundant communal plate of food.
Lentil sambusas in a phyllo-style crust ($6 for 6) were delightfully flaky and crunchy, with brightly spiced filling. The interior texture popped — far from a monotonous lentil paste, the interior of each pastry was like a vegetable garden in miniature, with tiny bits of still-recognizable produce each lending their own piece of flavor to the dish.
Lucy’s Tibs ($12, available as chicken, lamb, or beef) were irresistible as a featured menu item. The term “tibs” refers to a method of sauteing chunks of meat, and it can sometimes go awry when the spicing is too heavy or too light, or when poor-quality meat yields more gristle and bone than edible bites. The tibs (we ordered lamb, pictured below right) were quite tender and tasty, with a gentle kick of heat and a good overall balance of flavor.
The restaurant’s Special Kitfo (spiced, cooked ground beef served with a cheese close to a dry cottage cheese, and cooked greens, $12.50) fell a bit short of the tibs — it certainly packed more flavor than mere ground beef, but not much more. The meat, the cheese, and the greens were all relatively retiring in flavor, and the whole package felt as though it needed some kick — and the sight of a large bowl of ground beef flying solo in the middle of the table is a little visually distracting (above, left).
Better was the vegetarian sampler for two ($16), an assortment good enough that even the meat eaters said they’d come back for it. The shiro (berbere-spiced chickpeas and fried onions) was excellent and quickly decimated, as was a rich, soulful lentil-based dish.
While Lucy’s could use a bit of polish (a Web presence, a bit of menu editing, and the removal of the loud television on the wall would all help quite a bit), the spot’s a gem in the rough for those who seek bold, satisfying Ethiopian flavors.
BEST BET: The vegetarian samplers are entertaining and delicious.
Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant
Ethiopian food in Seward, Minneapolis
3025 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Open Daily (call for details)
ENTREE COST: $9-12