Bunna Café is just about as “Brooklyn” as it gets nowadays. The restaurant started life a pop-up, in a series of grungy-chic East Williamsburg bars. They eventually added a Smorgasburg stand into the mix to increase visibility, and started a campaign on indigogo to help fund their new (now two-month-old) brick-and-mortar, Bushwick location. And oh yeah, they specialize in vegan Ethiopian food.
Now, if you’ve ever been to an Ethiopian restaurant in New York (there aren’t many), chances are you’ve ordered staples like Beef Tibs or Doro (chicken) Watt. But there’s no meat or poultry anywhere on Bunna’s menu. Instead, you’ll receive a plate piled high with all manner of brightly colored, vegetable-based dishes, served with injera, the traditional spongy flatbread made with teff, for dipping. Although of course, this being Bunna (and Bushwick), gluten-free diners can always elect to swap in basmati rice.
The prices well befit a neighborhood populated by cash-poor artists; a combination platter of five entrees goes for $11, or you can order all nine as part of a shareable feast for $28 (it’s even cheaper during lunch). Warm options include Gomen (steamed kale with red onion), Shiro (ground chickpeas simmered with ginger), Misir Wot (red lentils cooked with berbere sauce), and Enguday Tibs (portobello mushrooms sautéed with garlic), while cold dishes consist of Keysir Selata (a mélange of beets, carrots, and potatoes), and Yesuf Fitfit; shredded injera, tomatoes and peppers soaked in roasted sunflower milk.
And while there are a few alcoholic options to enjoy alongside, like specialty cocktails and T’ej, a fermented honey wine, “Bunna” is the Ethiopian term for coffee, and as such, it’s one of the main draws of the menu. At the restaurant, it’s fresh roasted and immersion-brewed with cardamom and cloves, and often offered as part of an elaborate coffee ceremony. Set up around a rekbot — a shelf-like box arranged upon a bed of scented grasses and flowers — and performed by a young woman dressed in traditional, white cotton garments, the beans are roasted in a flat pan over a tiny stove. Once they’re black and aromatic, they’re passed around the room for people to smell, before being hand-ground by a mortar and pestle.
Bunna Café may seem custom-designed for Brooklyn in all things else, but when it comes to coffee, it’s nice to have an authentic aspect of Africa enlivening the borough too.