I had the opportunity recently to join some people for a dinner at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant and found it to be just as wonderful as before.
I was also pleased to find it still doing well after 13 years.
We had other Ethiopian restaurants open in Central Florida before Nile, but for some reason they never lasted more than a year. I always assumed it was the location – one of the early Ethiopian restaurants was in a motel at 33d Street and I-4 and another was in a strip mall on South Orange Blossom Trail. Nile was smarter in choosing International Drive where a diverse clientele could find it.
It was even smarter to serve excellent food.
Wats, or stews, are a staple of Ethiopian cuisine. They may consist of vegetables or meats in a range of spiciness. The wat is served on a tray that resembles a pizza pan on top of a large round piece of injera, the spongy sourdough bread that serves as a conveyance for the stews.
Besides the injera the food sits on, guests are generally offered extra pieces, usually served rolled up. Tear off a hunk of bread and use it to pinch up some of the wat. Utensils are not used here.
You may choose just one wat, but it’s so much better to do as my dining companions and I did and order an array.
We had Doro Alicha, chicken stewed with turmeric and topped with a hardboiled egg; Beef Key Wat, with hunks of beef in a red pepper sauce; and Zilbo, cubes of beef served with collard greens.
The best part comes when most of the wats have been eaten and you’re down to the injera and all the juices that it has absorbed. Start tearing away at it and enjoy the intensified flavors.
The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a must after the meal. Coffee originated in Ethiopia, so they’ve pretty much perfected it. The ceremony consists of roasting the green coffee beans over a small burner in the dining room so you can appreciate the aroma. (Incense is burned, as well, traditionally to let the neighbors know that you're roasting coffee.) The beans are then ground and boiled to a thick, black brew. Enjoy it; you can sleep next week.
As since the beginning, owner Abeba Gonesse is the gracious host here. She oversees the kitchen and the expansive dining room and greets each guest.
She’s another reason for Nile’s longevity.
Nile Ethiopian Restaurant is at 7048 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-354-0026.