It takes some guts to walk into Mesob Work, located in a rickety strip mall on the edge of barren Bragg Street, a dead end road leading to a landing strip of Peachtree DeKalb Airport. The interior of this restaurant/grocery is filled with odd trinkets -- T-shirts branded with Bob Marley's face above the word "Ethiopia" in large letters and key chains sporting images of Ethiopian people and the slogan "one love." The sole fingerprint of American culture hangs above the toilet in the bathroom: a sign reading, "If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be a sweetie and wipe the seatie."
Out of Africa: If you are lucky, Samson Abate, the husky owner with wide eyes, will appear. The service is best when he is taking the orders and delivering the food. He is eager to help you choose a dish and tell of his plans to move his eatery, which features his mother's cooking, to a more opulent space. She is a former African food judge who has her spices mailed from Ethiopia where her daughter still resides.
Eat your vegetables: My favorite meal here is the vegetarian combo ($7.99). Red and yellow lentils, kale and tomato jalapeño salad arrive on top of a large piece of injera, the spongy sour pancake used as a utensil to pinch up food. The red lentils are delicious. They glow like little pods of lava and are so spicy and piquant they make other restaurant's lentils taste like beans coated in store-bought barbecue sauce. For contrast, you will want to reach for the yellow lentils, a cool custard color of smooth, turmeric laded legumes. Even the kale, usually my least favorite, has a profound garlic punch to mellow the usual bitter tang of greens.
Utopian Ethiopian?: On the weekend, Mesob Work feels more like a community center than a restaurant. There is a lot of foot traffic in and out of the front grocery area, which affects the table service tremendously. It takes a long time to place an order if the English-speaking owner is busy. We were interested in trying some of the more unusual menu items but his stand-in struggled to understand us. We settled on the meat combo instead ($9.99 a person). We ended up with beef because they were out of chicken and lamb. It took nearly an hour for the large aluminum tray of treats to arrive.
When it finally appeared, the fried beef morsels with onions and jalapeños were so chewy my TMJ kicked in. A bowl of beef stew had large chunks of roast sitting in a pool of butter-soaked injera. If you can lick a stick of butter then you will love this dish. Thankfully there were three delectable bowls of vegetables. The red lentils and kale were featured again, this time accompanied with a sweet, smooth and starchy concoction wedding potato and carrot.
Mesob Work might be a bit precarious for the average foodie, but if you have time on your hands and a passion for Ethiopian vegetable dishes, be a sweetie and grab a seatie.