Grand Adventures

Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant and Grand Mediterranean Kabob Café show what eatin' good in the neighborhood really means.

Even after a friend and I had scooped up several handfuls of kitfo — raw beef chopped very, very fine and seasoned with niter kibbeh (clarified butter) and mitmita (a fiery ground chile pepper) — our server offered to take it back to the kitchen and have it cooked for us.

No, we said. We loved it.

She wasn't convinced. Were we sure? And again, when we didn't finish everything we'd ordered, she eyed our kitfo warily. Were we really full?

Simply satisfying: Grand Mediterranean Kabob Café offers comfort food, Persian-style.
Robert Boston
Simply satisfying: Grand Mediterranean Kabob Café offers comfort food, Persian-style.

Location Info

Map

Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant

3210 S. Grand Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63118

Category: Restaurant > Eritrean

Region: St. Louis - South Grand

Details

Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant
3210 South Grand Boulevard, 314-772-4442. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

Sambosa (beef) $4
Kitfo $9.95
Meskerem combo $10.95

Grand Mediterranean Kabob Café
4101 South Grand Boulevard, 314-752-5539. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. (Closed Mon.)

Kashke-bademjune $4.95
Zereskh polo with chicken $8.95
Beef and chicken kabob $10.95

I guess few diners at Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant order kitfo raw. A shame.

Meskerem's menu compares kitfo to steak tartare. The dishes certainly look more or less identical: A mound of chopped raw beef resembles nothing but a mound of chopped raw beef. But the flavor of kitfo is something else entirely, a pure iron tang that smacks you in the mouth and then peppers the wound. The meat is so luscious that it almost dissolves within its pocket of thin, sour injera bread.

Still, we couldn't eat it all. We'd ordered too much: the kitfo and kwanta firfir and a sauté of cabbage, carrots and potatoes, and small side dishes of miser alech and miser wat.

The kwanta firfir was intriguing: dried beef first seasoned with red wine and peppery, but not searing, berbere sauce and then mixed with small pieces of injera. The dried beef wasn't too chewy, but between the injera in the dish and the injera with which I scooped it up, I had trouble picking out its distinct essence.

The sauté of cabbage, carrots and potatoes ("vegetable combo #2"), on the other hand, was excellent, with a mild flavor of garlic and ginger that was a nice contrast to the strong kitfo. Miser alech and miser wat are, respectively, a mild and a spicy lentil dish — the former yellow with curry, the latter dusky-red with berbere sauce. Both are tasty.

Meskerem opened in March and is a welcome addition to South Grand's business district, the hub of ethnic dining in St. Louis. The address was last occupied by the oddly named (and short-lived) Jasoom Mexican Revolutionary Restaurant & Cantina and, before that, by just plain Jasoom. The new owners kept Jasoom's cheery yellow paint scheme, although the place seems more airy than I remember. I think they removed some booths. At any rate, the new owners also expanded into the space next door to create a second dining room. This is painted a cool, soothing blue.

Ethiopian cuisine is meant to be a communal experience. You order a few dishes (three might be too many for two people but are just right for four). These are served together, each in its own pile, on one large, round piece of injera. You tear off a piece of injera with your hands and use it to scoop up a little of this or that dish.

Just-OK injera is a utensil. Good injera is a light, but essential, layer of flavor, like the spritz of lemon juice on a piece of grilled fish. The injera at Meskerem is very good. I noticed it when eating the "Special Tibs," cubes of pleasantly chewy leg of lamb sautéed with green peppers, onions and tomatoes in Ethiopian honey wine and awaze sauce (a milder berbere sauce). The sour injera drew the lamb's natural taste out above all the other ingredients, making it a definitive lamb dish rather than simply a stew of flavors.

If you've never tried Ethiopian food, Meskerem would be an ideal introduction. Start with an order of sambosa, meat or lentil pies that look like empanadas and give you a brief introduction to some of the cuisine's basic flavors. They come with a delicious, spicy dipping sauce that will ease you into the more adventurous dishes.

The "Meskerem Combo" lets you sample a straightforward dish of beef in berbere sauce (tibs wat) and a slightly more interesting dish of beef seasoned with garlic, onion and ginger and served with collard greens cooked to just-right bitterness (gomen besaega), as well as helpings of miser alech and miser wat.

Ethiopia is justly famous as the birthplace of coffee, but to blow your mind order the Ethiopian tea, heady with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves — without a doubt the strongest tea I've ever tasted.



Doogh, a drink made from yogurt and dried mint, is popular in Iran and its neighboring countries. At Grand Mediterranean Kabob Café, you can order doogh by the glass or pitcher. This was my first doogh, so I opted for a glass.

The drink was served over ice, which I was happy to see on that unusually warm April afternoon. It looked like two-percent milk, and although it didn't taste like saltwater, exactly, that was my first thought. It's an acquired taste — one that, frankly, I have yet to acquire — but I was glad to try it.

Grand Mediterranean Kabob Café is located roughly a mile south of Meskerem on South Grand, just past Banh Mi So #1 — Saigon Gourmet. (If you pass Al Smith's Feasting Fox, you've gone a block too far.) It's an unassuming space. You enter into a room with a sit-down bar, a jukebox that plays Persian tunes and a few tables. In the next room is seating for about 30, the tables covered with clear vinyl tablecloths that resemble shower-curtain liners.

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