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Oct 3, 2010 07:30 AM

Lucy Ethiopian Cafe

Stopped by this little cafe for a quick bite before a concert. It's diagonally across the street from Symphony Hall, and just opened a few months ago.

It's a small room with about six tables, and I think there's another room behind it. The short menu is written on a chalkboard and half of it is taken up by pita sandwiches that don't sound particularly Ethiopian (unless I'm wrong and Ethiopians are big fans of avocado).

We ordered the two items that sounded most promising, the vegetarian Addis Combo and a meat dish, Lega-tibs. The combo consisted of a pretty bland potato dish and two lentil dishes, one red lentil dish spiced with berbere and one yellow split pea dish that reminded me of Indian dal, but with subtler spices. The latter was my favorite.The Lega-tibs was cubes of beef with green chilis, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh rosemary. The beef was a little chewy, but I loved the flavors in this dish. Both dishes came with very thick injera that was rolled up on the side, rather than having the food served on top.

Prices are only $7-11 for an entree -- those two dishes were plenty for the two of us and the bill came to only $20 before tip. Service was very sweet and friendly. I would definitely go back next time I'm in the area.

I think their focus is actually on coffee -- the Yelp reviews mentioned a coffee ceremony that they do regularly on the weekends -- but we were in a hurry so we just wolfed down our dinner and ran across the street. We'll have to stay for coffee next time.

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  1. Thanks PIa: Always good to have more Ethiopian here and sorry I haven;t made it to Fasika since they moved further away from me. How was their injera (any sourness)? Any Mutton/goat dishes?

    147 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02145

    2 Replies
    1. re: gourmaniac

      Yes, the injera is sour, in a good way. It was very thick and spongy, about twice as thick as the injera I've had at other area restaurants. I could be wrong, but I think the beef dish I ordered was the only Ethiopian meat dish.

      1. re: Pia

        Thanks. Yes I was looking for sour in a good way meaning that the mix is fermented. I'll give it a try especially given the location and the lack of other things near symphony hall that I like.

    2. Two of us went this evening and had the Addis Combo, which today was yellow split peas, as above; a gently cooked chopped green leafy vegetable; and a very tasty red vegetable mixture, and the Lega Tibs. It was all delicious, and a great addition to the Symphony area possibilities.

      I asked if there was a takeout menu, and the (presumed) owner said that he changes the menu weekly, so there's just the chalkboard.

      We had a very pleasant dessert, miliflore, with alternating pastry and cream layers, reminding me that the Italians spent a lot of time in Ethiopia during the 20th century.

      I hope word gets around so they can stay in business!

      1. After seeing it in MC Slim JB's "year in cheap eats," I stopped by Lucy on the way to the MFA today. Indeed, some of the stuff on the menu doesn't look too Ethiopian, but I had the Addis combo (yellow lentils, spicy red lentils, and greens with turnip cubes in them). I wouldn't put it at the level of Habesha in terms of interesting complex flavor, but it is a great asset to the area, especially at $7.99 for a lunch combo with all-you-can dip injera. I loved the injera which was nicely sour and of varying thickness (some similar to what I've had elsewhere, some quite thick -- it actually led me to choose sections of differing thickness as more appropriate to the various stews in the combo).

        There was a wonderful smell of simmering spices/cinnamon coming from the coffee ceremony room, too.

        Sadly, I was the only person in there (although I was a bit early -- 11:30ish). The service was very warm and attentive, and the owner (I assume) said "Ma'am, if the lentils are too spicy for you, tell me and I will bring you a side of yogurt" which was very sweet of him (tho for my taste the heat was fairly moderate.) I look forward to returning.

        1. I've eaten at Lucy's twice in the last 6 weeks, and have been very pleased with the food both times. It just got reviewed by the Globe this week, so the secret is really out.

          I love their injera - so soft and spongy that it's perfect for mopping up the food. Today we had the Addis combo and the lega tibs. The Lega tibs is particularly delicious.

          They have redone the chalk board on the wall. Now instead of re-writing their menu, it only lists their drinks, and the rest of the board has Ethiopian words (eg, good morning, thank you etc and their pronunciation).

          I still have one major reservation though:
          They need to smooth out the service. It seems they're always understaffed, and the owner (very, very nice man) tries to do everything himself. Forget going there if you're on a time crunch to catch a concert at Symphony Hall/Jordan Hall or play at Huntington.

          18 Replies
          1. re: y2000k

            I agree completely on the service issues.

            Luckily the last time we were in the neighborhood we got there early and were served before the place filled up. Two of us ordered lega tibs and the 3-veg combo to share. The food was excellent, and plenty of it.

            The first time we went, last fall, the place was still unknown. Now they're easily overwhelmed. Every table in both rooms was filled, and they were turning people away, saying the wait would be at least half an hour.

            1. re: y2000k

              I reviewed it in The Phoenix back in November, too. For what it's worth, I have found the pacing quite leisurely even when I was the only customer in the place.

              The coffee ceremony is worth a trip; call ahead to confirm, as they don't hew to the schedule religiously.


              1. re: y2000k

                Love the Lucy. I was there again on Saturday, at what I thought was an off-peak hour (around 3p), and still every seat was occupied with the exception of a stool at the bar. The owner seems to be the sole customer interface, so if he's tied up, the whole system bogs down (which was the case on Sat - he was running up and down from his car bringing in a haul of groceries). The other thing are the beverages, which take some time to make, thereby occupying all of another employee's time. And I believe it's just the wife in the kitchen doing all the cooking.

                Even still, like Slim also notes, I was the only customer in the place a couple of weeks ago too, and it still took about 10 minutes for me to get my order. I think partly this was due to ordering the lega tibs, which was definitely made on the spot, whereas the miser wot and other long-cooked lentils and split peas have been made in advance.

                It's a great pre-show option, but not if you're in a wicked rush.

                1. re: Nab

                  Just how slow are they? Barmy & I usually meet for dinner around 6 before going to Symphony, which starts at 8. (If dinner is speedy we move on to coffee or drinks in the lounge at Symphony Hall.) Lucy is practically across the street and I'd love to add them to our short roster of options - would we be able to turn around dinner in two hours?

                  1. re: Allstonian

                    I think you would *easily* get through dinner there in under 2 hours. For two people, even given the leisurely pace and vibe of the place, probably an hour all in (and that's even lingering over a coffee/tea). It's a small little cafe, which is why folks probably expect a speedy meal, but it's not Starbucks.

                    1. re: Nab

                      That's no problem, then! We normally budget at least an hour for dinner anyway. Thanks for the info.

                      1. re: Allstonian

                        We were there last Friday, the first after the review, and dinner was about an hour and fifteen minutes. There were a couple slow spots but no big deal. It's a sweet place, and the staff and food are both great.

                        1. re: Allstonian

                          Allstonian, I stopped by tonight, the only customer there, and had a chance to jibber-jabber with the owner, and particularly inquire on your behalf.

                          Apparently now on Symphony nights, there is often a 45 min wait just to get seated. He also no longer accepts reservations, unless it's for the coffee ceremony.

                          He's very proud of his food, as he should be, and he is adamant about not taking any shortcuts. He does not, for example, want to make a big batch of lega tibs in advance of a crush and let it sit there, because it is supposed to be cooked fresh and go straight from the pot to the injera to your gaping maw.

                          Finally got around to a cup of peanut butter & honey tea. I'd easily give up coffee for life for that stuff.

                          I do hope you and Barmy will check it out sometime. Send Barmy my best. Tell him he can stop over my place for a frito-pie while you wait for your table.

                          1. re: Nab

                            Speaking of lega tibs, I tried it the other night. I LOVED it, and ate the whole big portion over the course of the evening. It was impossible not to pick at.

                            I liked the chew of the meat (which was prepared a la minute as you said) with plenty of tomatoes, shallots and a sprig of fresh rosemary on top. Next time I'll order it extra spicy, but for my first time there I just had it regularly spicy. It still packed a creeping heat which I enjoyed.

                            As for timing, I ordered food to take away and although it took the owner a while to take my order, I was out the door in under 30 minutes. I had some Ethiopian bark tea while I waited. Very very chill.

                            1. re: yumyum

                              please let us know if you have any luck with the level of heat. i ordered the lega tibs "extra extra spicy" and it was still only moderately spicy

                              1. re: galangatron

                                In fact, I had some luck last night. Ordered extra-extra spicy, requested extra awaze, berbere, chiles, the whole nine. I ate it with a towel on my head. It pays to ask for extra chiles in the lega tibs, though chile heat varies, of course. I also have a couple of African hot sauces on hand that help to ratchet things up nicely.

                      2. re: Allstonian

                        2 hours is def enough, IF you don't have to wait for a table. My first time there we arrived by 6:30p and had to pester the owner for our check in order to get out the door by 7:50p. If things go smoothly, you can be in & out w/i an hour.

                        Some of the issues I encountered were:
                        1) sometimes the owner forgets to hand out the menus. This happened to me both times, but the 2nd time I just walked up to the counter to get them myself. But I noticed some other more polite diners just sit there and wait and wait and wait until the owner noticed they were missing menus.

                        2) If the owner is busy, it can be a while before he comes around to take your order.

                        BTW, I think someone else (not the wife) cooks the food. The day we went, the wife was in the back room (the coffee lounge) preparing/roasting coffee (I think) for a table.

                        1. re: y2000k

                          We tried Lucy last week before a Huntington theatre show. Luckily, there was no show at Symphony that night. We arrived at 6:15 and were seated right away. The owner is very friendly and personable. The restaurant smelled wonderful with the spices in the air. We had the Addis special with red lentils, yellow lentils, and spinach; along with the spicy lega tibs. Everything, including the "spongy bread" was delicious, although the portions of the veggies were smaller than we would have liked. We were finished eating by 7:15 and eager to get the check and leave for the theatre. However, even though we asked for it several times, it did not come. Finally at 7:30, we went to the register and insisted on paying, which we did. We did get to the theatre late and had to be seated upstairs until intermission. So the lesson here is that if you have a curtain time, get to Lucy early, and walk to the register early to pay. We'll be back again--it was probably the best cheap eats dinner we have found around the Symphony area.

                          Lucy Ethiopian Cafe
                          334 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02116

                    2. re: y2000k

                      does the menu have any new ethiopian dishes? the owner said he was going to change it every few weeks but it's almost always the same (lega tibs and a veggie sampler)

                      1. re: galangatron

                        No new dishes, but I spoke with him about this last night. He's trying to get on solid ground with all the business, which was also one of the reasons he did away with the specials board for now. But he said he is definitely planning to introduce a few things slowly, kitfo being one of the more logistically easier dishes to pull off.

                        1. re: galangatron

                          I don't think so. At least the menu has been the same from early Feb -> mid March.