Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
WORTH THE WAIT: Many folks who want to open a restaurant move too quickly, incurring all kinds of expenses before they have the income to cover them. Speed has not been the problem at Mannaweenta (1055 Gaines School Road, 706-850-8422). Owner Haregu Bahtu and her husband served their marvelous Eritrean/Ethiopian food at the West Broad Farmers Market for a couple of seasons, slowly building an audience until they found the right brick-and-mortar location, a tiny spot in an Eastside shopping center between the Omni gym and the Asian market.
The menu, a couple of months after their opening, remains a work in progress. Bahtu’s husband works the register and apologizes sweetly for anything listed on the laminated sheet that isn’t yet available. Fish tibbs is yet to come (maybe on Fridays?). Ditto for the pasta dishes that reflect the legacy of Italian colonialism in East Africa. A whole section of vegetable options is only cooked on Wednesday. The lentil soup is not yet finished defrosting. The phone number is hard to come by. The sorrel tea is not yet available, and neither are the sambusas.
Ignore all of these impediments, make sure you have some time set aside for your meal, and persevere. Even the impatient should be won over by the charm of the owners, who dialog sweetly on every question, and the food, which will please meat eaters and vegans alike. Try to go on a Wednesday if you want the largest range of choices: Okra wot is stewed but retains some texture, cut into rounds and cooked with tomatoes, onions and garlic; shiro, a smooth stew of chickpeas, is hot with chiles; telba wot, which looks like brown glop, consists of flax seeds cooked with onion and tomato and has a complex, nutty flavor; yemisser wot (wot means “stew,” in case you haven’t figured it out) focuses on red lentils, spiced with berbere (a blend of spices that includes dried chiles, ginger, fenugreek, paprika, allspice, turmeric and more); collard greens are cut fine and cooked gently to sweeten and refine their flavor.
If you are a meat eater, you have your own options: doro wot (chicken stew), yebeg alicha (a wonderful lamb dish, more solid than the stews, not fatty and preserving much of the gamy flavor of the meat), kitfo (a ground beef dish that must be cooked to order, heavily spiced with chiles and served with crumbled ayibe, a mild farmers’ cheese). Not everything is spicy, but the dishes that are don’t overwhelm, building their heat slowly. You can get your food with rice, but the better option is injera, a sourdough “bread” that is really more of a pancake. Tear off pieces with your hand and use them to pick up stew, vegetables, chunks of meat or even salad. Some people find the fermented taste too funky, but it really completes the flavor profile of each dish.
Strong coffee and house-made pound cake and anise biscotti are available to finish up, stuffed, with your wallet still relatively full. Dishes are available in small and large, but “small” is more than enough food for almost anyone. Mannaweenta is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, takes credit cards and serves no alcohol.
SAUCY: Saucehouse BBQ (830 W. Broad St., 706-363-3351), which resides in a huge complex resembling nothing so much as areas of Disney World, was also a long time coming, as its owners built their audience through catering and did their market research. The concept (Subway-style pick-and-choose BBQ) fills a niche, and the food is better than it needs to be to succeed.
Find a parking space in the small lot or nearby, take a gander at the signs that direct you to the bar, the beer garden or the restaurant, and get in line. You pick your “vessel” (bread, roll, tacos, baked potato, salad, nachos), your protein (chicken, pork, brisket, tofu, ribs), one regular veggie/side and one premium veggie/side as you move down the cafeteria line. The choices are smartly limited, and things mostly move quickly.
After you pay, you can fill as many tiny plastic containers as you want with the large array of sauces. Most of them are vinegary and hot, with varying amounts of sweet. Heresy though it may be, the Alabama white sauce is perhaps the best of the bunch. The ‘cue is good enough to stand without sauce, although it’s a bit lacking in bark. The brisket is top of the list (although too greasy; a slotted spoon would help), then the chicken, the ribs and the pork, but all of them pass muster.
The macaroni and cheese overdoes it on the cheese (a sentence I never thought I would type), but the slaw is simple and good. Add the latter to brisket tacos, and you should be very happy. The space seats a ton, and, while it’s loud, it feels fun without being corny. There are no smiling pigs. The beer garden is a great place to relax and let your children run around. Breakfast biscuits are served in the back Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, and the full bar is open daily, with its own snacks.