My little Palm Pre saved us again from another crappy “just-off-the-highway” meal when we were traveling from Nashville TN back to Baltimore MD a few weeks ago. Smart phones are amazing. All I needed to do was visit a website that all vegetarians and vegans should know about: Happy Cow. See, Happy Cow is an online guide to finding vegetarian food anywhere in the USA. You just type in the city/town closest to you and it will give you a list of possible grazing stations. They’re been online since 1999 and if you haven’t seen this site, go visit as soon as you finish reading this post.
Back to my story…. It was a Sunday night and we were about to pass through the college town of Harrisonburg, VA. Happy Cow showed several options – but only one was open. Turned out to be our lucky day. Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine was an exotic jewel. It was so good, we would drive there as a destination for dining.
Right out of the gate, the service was excellent. We called from the road to double check the menu. The manager answered and she understood what we were asking for (vegan food!) without any elaborate explaination. In fact, she had options for us and as well versed with vegetarian cuisine. When we arrived, it wasn’t long before close, but we were seated and served comfortably. There was no rush.
Inside Blue Nile was elegant and had a sophisticated touches like original work by local artists. We especially liked one large piece made by the bartender (!!) which was created from repurposed wood.
If we hadn’t been on the road, DH would have definitely had to try the Blue Nile Sunday special: $1 Bloody Marys. But instead we opted for the Ginger Tea and the house Ethiopian Coffee. The tea was made from peeled fresh ginger and toasted ginger zest. To call is refreshing and zippy is an understatement. The Ginger Tea was a peppery, perky cup of goodness. Perfect after 12 hours in the car. And the Ethiopian coffee was not your usual brew, either. It was smooth and had a hint of spiciness. The coffee smelled like a plate of warm cookies.
Next, we moved on to Shorba, which was a vegan peanut and lentil soup served with a slice of vegetarian Himbasha honey-bread. The Shorba was thick, creamy and decadent with a complex flavor that was both sweet and spicy at once. I was honestly pretty full by the time the soup was all, and we shared a good deal of it. But that was just the beginning.
DH ordred a lentil salad called Azifah Fitfit. It was a mix of whole lentils, green peppers and chopped onions, tossed with vinegar and house-made Ethiopian mustard, served chilled on a huge piece of Injera. The presentation on Injera bread was a show-stealer. Injera is made from barley, teff and whole wheat, and it looks like a giant pancake. The texture isn’t cakey though, it’s more chewy and soft. And tasty! The Azifah Fitfit was tangy and bright with distinct flavors from the veggies, lentils and mustard.
We both ordred an entree at Blue Nile, too ~ DH got Shiro Wat, which is Ethiopian comfort food consisting of ground peas and beans stewed with onions, garlic and Berebere – a pepper that serves as a spicy base. I tried the Tofu Keye Wat, which was tofu stewed with onions, garlic, ginger and Berebere. And while we were ready for more Injera with the main course – we were delighted to see seven sides! We got to sample two kinds of cabbage, a fresh salad with mustard dressing, more kinds of stewed lentils, potatoes, peas – and the BEST collard greens either of us ever tasted. Seriously. When we talk about Blue Nile now, two weeks later, we still mention the collard greens.
The range and layers of flavors on our plate can only be described as an experience – it wasn’t just a meal. It was balanced, elegant and exoic, but also earthy, filing, comfortable. Really, you’ll just have to go try it for yourself.
Blue Nile has indoor and outdoor seating areas, as well as a nightclub on the lower level. While it’s not strictly vegetarian/vegan, Blue Nile is crazy veg-friendly. They offer nine vegan entrees, as well as the soup and a variety of salads, and six veg sandwiches on the lunch menu. Prices start at only $9.00 for an entree and soup/salads are available for $4.00 to $6.00. A steal.
They’re located at 181 N. Main St, Harrisonburg, VA. (540) 432 NILE. Whether you live near there, or you’re just passing through, Blue Nile is more than worth a stop. And try Happy Cow – it led us to this wonderful place. Who knows where you may end up for dinner, where ever you are…