Madina took over the location that formerly housed Nazareth, another Ethiopian restaurant. In fact, for months, I thought it was the same place with a new name. I was mistaken. Madina is an Ethiopian-Somalian restaurant. The difference, it was explained to me, is that Nazareth's focus was western Ethiopia: enjera only. The owners of Madina are from the eastern part of the country, near the border with Somalia. The cuisine, I was informed, is more expansive: enjera, rice and spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti, a remnant of colonial days. (With a traditional spicy sauce, it tastes just the way you would expect it to taste.)
Madina takes up half of a building that used to be a Captain D's. (The restaurant faces the shopping center parking lot rather than Memorial Drive; the back half of the building is a busy Chinese restaurant.) The large rectangular main dining room is decorated simply, with flowing burgundy tablecloths under hard plastic tops. Artificial lilies and pinks spill out of trumpet vases on each table. Muted gray-green cabbage roses wallpaper appear to have been tacked onto the walls rather than pasted. Translucent pleated blinds filter the sunlight beautifully.
The television hanging from the ceiling cattycorner from the bar in the entry is always on. I'm told there's live music on weekends, and the bulletin board just inside the doors is filled with community news. All of the background sights and sounds are very much in keeping with the communal nature of the cuisine.
Ethiopian food, with its spicy stew meats soaking into its spongy flatbread, is meant to be shared on a large platter. Madina's platters are gorgeous, brilliantly colored and patterned. (Surely I recognize these from the previous tenant.) I find Madina's beige-colored enjera to be flatter than anything I have encountered in Atlanta, and much more sour. Almost sour enough to make the cheeks pucker.
I must say I prefer the fragrant basmati rice with its beautiful slim kernels and elegant aroma, courtesy of cloves and cinnamon and who knows what else. This is the perfect balance to what I consider Madina's best effort, called, plainly enough, "tender goat meat." Well, yes, it is. It is also more than that. Cumin and coriander give the thick sauce roasted onto the goat meat and oozing into the rice a tantalizing kick.
For vegetarians, there are several zesty choices featuring lentils or yellow split peas. For the less adventurous, there are gyros, wings and chicken tenders.
I caution you against the lamb dishes; the meat is too fatty. But if you are up for something really different, try breakfast at Madina. Your choices are fresh goat liver, fried lean beef or mashed beans, all appropriately seasoned, of course. Each dish comes with a fresh banana.
Madina, 5291 Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain, 404-508-0098. Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Sunday 11:30 a.m.- 10 p.m. Inexpensive. Credit cards. Dress: casual. Ambiance: modest. No-smoking section, but you have to walk through smoke at the bar. Wheelchair accessible.