Tucked above the Green Line’s Symphony Station is an unassuming restaurant that has been pleasing its customers for the past eight years with traditional Ethiopian fare. Named after the 3.2 million-year-old collection of fossilized bones, famously and affectionately known as Lucy, Lucy Ethiopian Cafe pays tribute to its roots and history through its distinct atmosphere and flavors.
Upon entry, you are greeted with mustard yellow walls and the aroma of Ethiopian spices. Woven baskets, clay coffee pots, bright painted pictures and wicker chairs — all evocative of the traditional African decor — adorn the space. A white-board prominently displays common phrases and words in Amharic, one of eighty-three languages in Ethiopia. Composed of two small dining areas, the interior is a welcoming balance of foreign and familiar, enticing the customers to engage all of their senses and enjoy the immersive nature of eating Ethiopian cuisine.
The menu, though initially simple, provides a sufficient range of traditional dishes and possible combinations. Popular with vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, Lucy serves breakfast options, appetizers, entrées, and speciality drinks. Sensing us overwhelmed, our waiter suggested the best way to try a variety of food: the Vegetarian Combo for Two and a beef dish called Lega Tibs. Served in a large, round, family-style platter, the combo contains the seven vegetable options on top of injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread and staple to many Ethiopian meals. Made to eat with your hands, using the injera to aid the process, the dish consists of miser wot (red lentils), gomen (collard greens), tikile gomen (cabbage and green beans), dinch wot (potatoes, green beans, and carrots), kit aletcha (split peas), timatim fit fit (mixed injera and diced tomatoes), and simmered spinach. Separating each vegetable are more rolls of injera, encouraging its use, skipping the fork and knife. Each vegetable has its own unique preparation, providing a contrasting combination of flavors.
Starting with the injera, the spongy, crepe-like bread is made from teff and wheat flour, with a hint of lemony afternotes. The green vegetables – the collard greens and spinach – are simmered in a mild blend of seasons and herbs, providing freshness and texture to the dish. The yellow vegetables — potatoes, cabbage, and split peas — each bring a unique angle to the dish. The potatoes, simmered with green beans and carrots in a mild sauce, were hearty but not overbearing. Out of all the vegetables, this was my least favorite, perhaps due to its arguably too-simple seasoning. Conversely, the cabbage was a people pleaser. The buttery sauce was a perfect match for the crunchy, slightly acidic vegetable. The split peas, cooked in a ginger and garlic sauce, were also enjoyable, especially when soaked in the injera. The red options – the lentils and tomato mixture – were also favorites of mine. The tomato mixture, soft, citric, and combined with onions, garlic, jalapeno, olive oil, and lemon juice – provided some needed variance in flavors, reinvigorating the palette.
Though Ethiopia is proudly known as the origin of coffee, a must-try at Lucy is its peanut tea. Available hot or cold, the tea is a rich combination of peanuts, milk, and honey. The hot version is reminiscent of a warm frothy milkshake – the perfect drink for a brisk, autumn day or evening. The Traditional Tea is also an excellent choice for fans of some spice, as it is infused with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. If you are in the mood for strong coffee, however, Lucy offers the option of ordering solely a cup until 4:30pm (after then, you are required to also order food). Next time that you are looking for a meal out of the ordinary, or perhaps one to bring you back to your roots, take a step inside this hidden gem. Prior to eating at Lucy, I did not think of Ethiopian food as having its own community in Boston. Now, it has opened my mind to not only cultural cuisine, but also the diverse cultures that inhabit this northeastern city. Lucy is a reminder that food is not homogenous and that it should be a shared experience. It is a moment when people have the opportunity to break away from the routines of everyday and break bread – quite literally.
Lucy Ethiopian Cafe, 334 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115