If youre an adventurous eater, put hopscotching up and down Independence Avenue on your list. Over the last year Ive received tips on places to check out, including Pho Hoa Noodle Shop, Hamburguesa Loca and MesobPikliz.
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
The Kansas City Star
First up, MesobPikliz combines Ethiopian and Haitian cuisines, with two separate menus at play under one roof. The Ethiopian side of the menu includes many typical stewed meat and vegetarian dishes served with injera bread, plus an inspired coffee ceremony. The Haitian side offers more seafood, including imported conch, and a few island-style cocktails with a nip of rum.
Cherven Desauguste worked as a sous chef at Argosy Casino, where he met server Mehret Tesfamariam from Ethiopia. The couple/co-owners decided to open their own restaurant in the summer of 2011. Mesob means table, specifically a woven version that holds large platters of Ethiopian food. Pikliz is the word for Haitian coleslaw, a lightly vinegary pickled cabbage and carrot slaw that gets its heat from habanero peppers, with a few jalapenos thrown in for color.
The MesobPikliz dining room is painted a cheerful, bright Caribbean orange. The windows are covered with brocade swags. On two of my three visits, we were the only ones in the restaurant. The restaurant has expanded its catering operations and attracts a healthy crowd of 50 on the third Sunday of every month when the Haitian community stops in for a Caribbean dinner, but I was relieved when the door swung open on a table of six women on one of my visits.
The women were gathered to celebrate a birthday, and it was obvious by their questions that both cuisines were new to them. The menu descriptions are straightforward, but some need verbal elaboration.
The first time I went to dinner with a friend who already was familiar with the menu, she ordered me a slightly tart daiquiri-style cocktail, but it took a conversation with Desauguste to realize the martini that showed up on my bill was actually the alcoholic version of korosol, a Haitian word for the soursop, a pulpy tropical fruit.
I always find appetizers are an easy way to settle into a foreign cuisine. When I asked for help on how many appetizers to order to cover both the vegetarian and meat eaters at our table, Mehret offered to put together a sampler platter that was listed as special dish on the bill for an extremely reasonable $15. The platter included akra (taro and herb dumplings), banane pesse (fried plantains topped with pikliz), and meat and vegetarian sambusas (triangles of pastry filled with spicy ground beef or a mixture of cabbage, carrots, potatoes and lentils).
On one night the meat sambusas came with a vivid green cilantro dipping sauce with some heat. The menu indicated the vegetarian versions were served with a tomato sauce, but we were given the same sauce with both.
Another appetizer, the taso beouf, was artfully presented, with chunks of marinated and cooked beef topped with a fried sweet potato and garnished with more spicy slaw and dots of green cilantro sauce.
Given that MesobPikliz is a mom-and-pop restaurant with variable traffic during the week, it should come as no surprise that ingredients change or are not available from one visit to the next. On my first two visits, there was no goat in the house.
My third visit, after calling ahead, I got a chance to try gabrit nan sos, tender chunks of goat and okra slow-cooked in a pan sauce that reminded me of French beef stew with a splash of wine. It is something Desauguste picked up while working at Argosy, as wine is not a traditional ingredient in Haitian cooking.
If youre squeamish when it comes to goat, you should know that this is the restaurants most popular protein, served fried and stewed. Some people eat goat the first time and they have a bad experience, but ours is really tender, Desauguste says.
Another popular dish is poule maison, a half-chicken herb-roasted then pan-sauteed and served with tomato sauce and steamed jasmine rice. The presentation is lovely. Served on white plates on tables covered with linen tablecloths, the dishes stacked and sauce-painted casino style continues to inspire.
The restaurant is in the process of adding several dishes. From the Haitian menu, I tried the conch, a meaty mollusk, stewed in a tomato Creole sauce that tasted nearly identical to the sauce served with the chicken. The conch is also available fried.
On the Ethiopian side, slow-cooked beef ribs are a new standout dish. The meat was a tiny bit fatty and a whole lot salty. The ribs are paired with an eye-catching side salad of chopped lettuce, tomatoes and rings of jalapeno dressed with a light vinaigrette and rolls of spongy injera to fold around the chunks of meat. A side of mahogany-colored berbere sauce made with chili powder and other spices added a bit of heat.
Desserts include a creme brulee and a tasty mango cheesecake (not housemade) topped with fruit soaked in orange liqueur. As the new menu rolls out in the coming weeks, Desauguste said he planned to add fruit sorbet selections.
But the one thing you should not miss at the end of your meal is the opportunity to partake in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Mehret roasts coffee beans in a skillet and brings them to the table, dramatically wafting the smoke of roasted beans so the smell fills the dining room.
After the beans cool slightly she grinds them and prepares coffee served in a rustic pottery vessel called a jebena that sits at the table in a smaller straw version of a mesob. A silver tray of tiny china coffee cups without handles is brought to the table so customers can serve themselves, adding as much sugar as required.
The next time I ordered coffee service, the male server told me the restaurant was out of beans. I found that odd since the restaurant is next door to an Eleos Coffee House. But then he revealed the real reason: The ceremony is typically performed by a woman. Best to call ahead and order the coffee ceremony when Mehret is in the house.
3405 Independence Ave.
On Facebook. Star ratings
Food: ★★★ Excellent and artistic preparations, but the menu is constantly in flux.
Service: ★★ Friendly and willing to answer questions.
Atmosphere: ★★ Comfortable but quiet. Sometimes too quiet.
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Open third Sunday of the month for Caribbean Dinner. Check Facebook for specifics.
Entree average (including nightly specials): $$
Vegetarian options: The Ethiopian side of the menu is naturally more amenable to vegetarians, including four entrees featuring red lentils, split peas, collard greens, cabbage or portobello mushrooms. The Haitian side offers one legume entree, a braise of eggplant, green papaya, cabbage, carrots and tomatoes. Staples include jasmine and mushroom rice, vegetable sambusa, fried plantains and taro dumplings.
Handicapped accessible: No, but stay tuned.
Parking: Street, plus a lot in back.
Kids: Most welcome.
Noise level: Haitian and Ethiopian music plays softly. Good place for conversation.
Reservations: Walk-ins are welcome but best to call if you have more than six in your party. The entire menu is available for delivery, and the restaurant is selling injera, a traditional, spongy Ethiopian flatbread made with teff flour. Call ahead to order.
Star code: ★ Fair, ★★ Good, ★★★ Excellent, ★★★★ Extraordinary
Price code: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.
Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewers. The Star pays for review meals.
Le lambi (Bahamian conch in Creole sauce) | $22
Gabrit nan sos (stewed goat) | $13
Poule (chicken) maison | $12
Gorden tibs (short ribs) | $15
Coffee ceremony | $10
What to drink
There are some interesting drinks at MesobPikliz. Nonalcoholic options include papaya or mango juice, Haitian sodas and hand- squeezed Haitian lemonade with a hint of vanilla.
The restaurant also has a horseshoe- shaped bar where Cherven or Mehret whips up korosol (sort of a daiquiri, without ice, made from the white pulp of a soursop) and a sweet potato smoothie, a heavy cocktail with rum, vodka, coconut milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk. This one can barely make it through a straw, but its a very unusual flavor combination.
The restaurant also stocks Haitian beers such as Prestige and expects to add Ethiopian beer to the lineup in the near future.