Friday, June 14, 2013

Abay Ethiopian Cuisine (East Liberty)

Update: Abay is closed.

To much sadness and astonishment among Pittsburgh food lovers, Abay recently announced on Facebook that it will be closing on June 30.

Sad, as being the first to bring authentic Ethiopian cuisine to the city, Abay played an important role in expanding and revolutionizing the Pittsburgh dining scene. To this day, owner Jamie Wallace views Abay not as a restaurant, but a "cultural destination that happened to be a restaurant."

Astonished, because the food at Abay is delicious! How can such a much-loved restaurant like Abay go out of business??

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. It appears that the reason behind the decision to close is not a lack of profit, but rather a lack of fire to keep it going. As Wallace noted in his post, "If someone with the same perspective, energy, and passion I had 10 years ago wants to continue Abay here (or at another location), we'll consider selling Abay and doing what we can to help." I most assuredly hope there are takers on his offer, but if not, may this be my final tribute post for Abay.

I actually visited Abay not too long ago. Ethiopian is R.'s favorite cuisine, and he was adamant about going to Abay for his birthday dinner because he so enjoyed our first visit there (as did I). This time, we were treated to mesob seating (basket-weaved tables) by the window, in full view of the latest residential development across Highland Avenue. East Liberty is looking to be the hottest spot in town.

For our meal, we once again ordered two combination platters (the Combination Sampler and the Vegetarian Sampler) which allowed us to sample different items. We picked a few from our last visit here that we liked, but also tried a few new ones.

Platter at Abay
Combination Sampler and Vegetarian Sampler at Abay

For the combination platter, we ordered (pictured from top to bottom on the left side of the platter):
  1. Minchet Abish — Finely minced beef simmered in a berbere stew.
  2. Doro Tibs — Strips of boneless, skinless chicken breast sautéed with homemade awaze, peppers, onions and herbs.
  3. North African Curry Chicken (special for the evening) — Sautéed chicken simmered in a spicy sauce of coconut milk, toasted spices, fresh basil, and pureed roasted vegetables.
  4. Abay Scallops (special for the evening) — Pan seared scallops with a toasted almond, basil, and fennel sauce
For the vegetarian sampler, we got (picture right):
  1. Misir Wat — Red split lentils simmered in spicy berbere sauce.
  2. Kay Sir Dinich — Potatoes and fresh beets stewed and blended with garlic, ginger and onions.
  3. Inguday Wat — Fresh mushrooms and brown lentils simmered in a spicy berbere sauce.
  4. Shiro Wat — Finely ground split peas, lentils and chickpeas simmered in berbere and a combination of seasonings.
I'm not sure where we found the room, but after the scrumptious meal, we each ordered a dessert. I opted for the Burnt Almond Torte while R. got the Pumpkin Sambussa with Honey Ice Cream. I mentioned it was R.'s birthday, and the staff was nice enough to bring a candle with our dessert.

Burnt Almond Torte at Abay
Burnt Almond Torte

Pumpkin Sambussa with Honey Ice Cream at Abay
Pumpkin Sambussa with Honey Ice Cream

We definitely left with happy bellies that evening. Little did we know that it would likely be our last meal at Abay. To the crew at Abay: Thank you so much for all that you've done to broaden the culinary horizon in Pittsburgh. I thoroughly enjoyed your exceptional food and service, as well as learning more about Ethiopia along the way. Goodbye, Abay, and thanks for the memories.

Restaurant info:
Abay Ethiopian Cuisine
130 S Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
On the web:
Bonus: BYOB ($2.50 per bottle corkage fee)

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