A restaurant that straddles the borders of multiple cuisines is not a new concept in American dining: Think “fusion” cuisine, with its melding of global ingredients and far-flung techniques. But it’s far less common to find a restaurant that attempts multiple yet distinctly separate cuisines under one roof.
The 4-month-old Mesob Restaurant, featuring dual menus of Ethiopian and Caribbean food, sits in the far corner of a midtown shopping center across from the Uptown Theater. This section of Broadway is notable for its recent influx of ethnic eateries, including French-Vietnamese iPhotower, Shio Japanese ramen and Krokstrom Klubb & Market Scandinavian charcuterie.
Mesob is not your average jerk chicken joint, nor is it a simple take on Ethiopian staples like the fragrantly spiced, braised vegetable and meat dishes served on bubbly, soft injera bread. Chef Cherven Desauguste’s skills were honed in the kitchens of south Florida and Kansas City but also reflect influences from France and New Orleans.
Desauguste has a flair for plating and presentation, therefore Mesob trends more upscale than the standard establishments. The menu offerings also are more diverse, with vegan and vegetarian options, as well as fish (red snapper) and meat offerings (lamb, goat and oxtails). Prices reflect the restaurant’s ambitions — most entrees range between $17 and $23, a significant jump for ethnic dishes that are often incorrectly perceived by American diners as inherently less expensive to produce.
Mesob seems to be developing a following familiar with its earlier incarnation in Kansas City’s Northeast called MesobPikliz. At certain times, I found the restaurant bustling with the faithful who had come for their live music on the weekends or for the unique items like oxtails or fried whole red snapper. On one visit, the restaurant was already out of both options by the time I was seated.
On another visit, my guest and I were the only people there, save for a takeout order. The location of the restaurant may be partly to blame; it is not easily seen by drivers cruising down Broadway. But sometimes you have to look deeper to find really good food, and Mesob is worth the effort.
Both sides of Mesob’s menu are diverse enough to please. I was especially interested in the vegan and vegetarian dishes. The clearly marked items were of great help to a vegan guest I invited, and the server happened to be vegan as well, so she gave us a number of helpful descriptions.
If you are unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, the custom is to eat with your hands, using the delicious, sponge-like injera bread as both a platter to serve on and a utensil to scoop with. Mesob serves a rainbow selection of red, green and yellow lentil dishes as entrées or sides. The portobello mushroom tibs — a popular dish featuring the spice blend berbere, tomatoes, onions and garlic — is typically served with lamb, beef or chicken.
The misir wot, a braised red lentil dish, also features the aromatic berbere. That dish is common at most Ethiopian restaurants, but this version made an impression with the vegetable and meat fans. It can be sampled on the vegetable platter.
One of the Caribbean standouts was the diri djon djon mushroom rice flecked with small lima beans. Although listed as a humble side dish, the rice was one of the menu’s true standouts. The nearly black color of the rice comes from the highly prized djon djon mushroom native to islands like Haiti. Djon djon are prohibitively expensive to import. Instead, Desauguste uses an imported djon djon bouillon cube to give the dish its distinctive flavoring and coloring. Regardless, it was delicious.
I would recommend ordering the rice as a side with the oxtails. The rice’s aromatic, earthy qualities play well with the unctuous, fatty richness that defines braised dishes. Served with collard greens and a sauce infused with wine and the gelatinous cooking liquid rendered from the oxtail, it’s the sort of comfort food any culture would be happy to claim.
While jerk chicken is a dish that most adventurous diners have tried, I found Mesob’s of particular interest. Rather than the overly spiced flavors dominated by allspice, black pepper, thyme and scotch bonnet peppers, the chicken had a nice rub and was presented with a sweet and spicy sauce that instantly reminded me of something available at local barbecue joints.
Another must-try are the Caribbean fritters made from mashed taro root, a tuber cousin to the potato. Like any number of other fritters found around the world, the vegetables were mashed together, coated and deep-fried.
Sure, you can find a basket of fried things at any restaurant or even bowling alley, but these fritters are served on a long, rectangular plate with a vibrant green cilantro sauce swooshing across the plate adding color and elegance to the dish. Shaved radish added notes of freshness and acidity to the exceedingly crisp coating and creamy interior.
On the happy hour menu, these fritters are topped with shrimp. At $5 during the two-hour happy hour, it’s an indulgence easy on the wallet. Order a Haitian or Jamaican beer to wash down those fritters, or better yet, one of Mesob’s signature cocktails.
The Stormy Baron cocktail pairs quite well with almost any dish on either menu. The combination of spiced rum, lime juice and ginger beer provided the perfect foil for both cuisines.
3600 Broadway, Suite 105
Food: ☆☆☆ An eclectic menu — or rather two menus — highlights multiple cuisines with an eye toward sophistication not seen at many similar restaurants. From presentation to ingredients, many of the dishes stand out for their elevated take on dishes both familiar and lesser-known.
Service: ☆☆ 1/2 Service at Mesob Restaurant is generally friendly and informative. At busier times, the service can slow down but is no less hospitable or pleasant.
Atmosphere: ☆☆ Mesob Restaurant has vividly colored walls and, depending on the night of the week, a lively soundtrack, be it a live band or recorded music. It makes for a pleasant, but somewhat minimal, backdrop for food that brightens proceedings with its plating and flavor.
Hours: 3-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 3-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3-9 p.m. Sunday
Entrée average: $20 or less
Vegetarian options: There are a number of vegetarian options to choose from. The Ethiopian side of the menu has a plethora of main and side dishes like red or green lentils, greens or a delicious vegetarian sampler dish. The diri djon djon (black mushroom) rice in particular is a standout.
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Parking: A full parking lot for the entire strip mall.
Kids: No separate children’s menu, but there are many items, like fried plantains and a milder jerk chicken, that could expose children to new flavors.
Noise level: Low to medium at normal times. The restaurant can go from low-key and on the quiet side when not as busy, to filled with live music and enthusiastic guests on weekends.
Star code: ☆ Fair, ☆☆ Good, ☆☆☆ Excellent, ☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary
Caribbean fritters, $7
Oxtails with side of djon djon rice, $17
Jerk chicken, $19
Ethiopian meat combination, $20
Misir wot, $12
What to drink
Mesob Restaurant has a nice mix of drinks, from beer, wine and signature cocktails to nonalcoholic drinks like the Mesob limeade or smoothies featuring fresh fruit and bold flavors.
Happy hour runs from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and is a nice way to sample cocktails like the Painkiller (gold rum, pineapple and orange juice and coco real) or the Stormy Baron (spiced rum, lime juice and ginger beer).
Haitian and Jamaican beers show up with local drafts and standard domestics. If wine is more your speed, there is a nice selection that pairs well with some of the dishes in which wine works as an ingredient as well.