Buticha, tibs and gomen may not be in your everyday vocabulary, just yet. Buticha is a garlicky, chick pea dip; gomen contains collard greens; and tibs takes on chunks of marinated poultry, beef or lamb. Tampa’s Queen of Sheba is like a safari, a journey where you’ll embark on earthy, Ethiopian flavors. Found in a simple, south Tampa storefront, the eatery with its mottled, pumpkin walls, native textiles, and serving baskets called mesop, is about as far from western food as you can get.
As we walk toward the checkout counter in Publix with what will be $17.29 in groceries, I hit Seble Gizaw with a bit of information that makes her take pause.
"I'm not real big on lamb," I say, glad that she's using beef in the meal she's about to prepare at her restaurant, Queen of Sheba, the only Ethiopian eatery in the Bay area.
The space is one of those Bermuda Triangle sites that has seen the demise of a number of restaurant ventures. Queen of Sheba will stick, though, on the basis of its huge family-style platters of spiced legume or meat stews called wats, chicken drumsticks and hard-boiled eggs.
One event — a tiny restaurant opening in South Tampa on Henderson where a half-dozen restaurants have struggled and failed — has caused me to ring in the new year with a sense of optimism. The return of Ethiopian to the Bay area culinary landscape, after the demise of Ibex a few years ago, might just signify that we're ready to take our place among urban areas with enlightened palates. Ethiopian restaurants like Queen of Sheba are a subtle sign that a city has grown up.
Sheba does not push the boundaries of Ethiopian cuisine, but instead serves tasty and straightforward African home cooking -- and that's just fine.