Friday, October 15, 2010

Gereny (Closed)

Gereny is no longer open.

This is a post from our newest guest blogger, Liz Phillips. You may know her from her monthly family food column in Memphis Parent or from her super fun and informative family travel blog, Go With Family. She is the mom of two monkeys--Gus(7) and Solly(2 1/2). (She and her husband, Josh, adopted Solly in Ethiopia.)

Gereny East African Mediterranean
2356 Jackson Ave.
(901) 458-6330

One of our first steps when we started considering adopting from Ethiopia was to try the food. Not to imply that we made our decision based on a flavor profile. But a culture’s cuisine is one way in among many, especially for someone like me who thinks with her stomach. We became regulars at Abyssinia, the terrific Ethiopian place on Poplar. And by now, our family has ingested its collective weight in doro wat and injera, Ethiopia’s signature chicken stew and flatbread.

So when we heard that Gereny East African Mediterranen had opened on Jackson, it seemed like an opportunity to explore another version of the region’s foodways. (Despite its name, Gereny is basically an Ethiopian place.) We were wary, though. Online reviews suggested that the menu was unreliable: only sandwiches one day, full range of dishes the next. Rumors that the place had closed swirled like cream in coffee.

No problem. When we arrived at 5:30 on a Saturday night, only one other table was occupied, but the four men seated there were digging into plates of some kind of stew over rice. Solly ran straight at a pink Kroger balloon floating in the middle of the floor, but before he could grab it, a little girl (the owner’s daughter, it turned out) yelled, “It’s mine!” Before long, they were playing together.


Don’t go to Gereny if you’re looking for a smooth, professional restaurant experience. The food’s unfamiliar, as of now there’s no menu -- let alone a kids’ menu -- and there’s a little language gap. But if you want your kids to try something new in a relaxed setting, this is your place.

I’d heard that the best approach here was to ask for “the works,” so with the owner/server/host’s help, we ordered a chicken and rice plate for Josh and two kinds of beef, steak plate and tibs, for me and the kids. (I wanted goat, but no luck.) To accommodate the kids, I requested that he go easy on the hot spice in the steak. They usually get mango juice at Abyssinia, but he offered us lemonade instead, which turned out to be pineapple. Luckily, it tasted bright and fresh, and he brought a whole pitcher.

By now, the table full of men had gone. A few times, people picked up take-out. Sponge Bob yakked from a big TV, followed by some ‘tween show. While we waited, my kids, who are starved for televisual entertainment in their home lives, alternated gaping vacantly at the screen with prancing around and slam-dunking the poor pink balloon. Gus recognized the coffee ceremony set, incongruous under the TV, from our time in Ethiopia. The wood-paneled walls were lined with vintage photos of East Africans and promotional posters of the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

After a while, a few bowls of rich broth with bits of root vegetables appeared. With a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon it tasted rich and savory. The boys drank theirs up. Next came salads. Nothing special, really, shredded iceberg, tomato, onion and sliced jalapeno with what tasted like bottled Italian. But the kids loved them, and Gus even ate a hot pepper slice.


As I said, the pace is leisurely. But when the beef and chicken came out, we tucked in with enthusiasm. The two beef dishes were similar, both composed of tough but tasty cuts of beef cut into small bits or strips, both seasoned with the distinctive garam masala-meets-chili-powder mix called berbere, both stewed in an onion-tomato base. But I found sprigs of rosemary, a delicious and complicating Mediterranean touch, in the sauce for the tibs. Josh’s chicken had pretty much the same flavor profile, and nothing was too spicy for the kids. I got one of the beef dishes be served on injera, because I like the way the spongy bread soaks up the sauce. The kids mostly ate the rice that their beef was served on.


With more than 80 different ethnic groups, Ethiopia’s food is more than just the few dishes usually served in American Ethiopian places. So we’ll go back, I think. I’d like to see what their full menu looks like, and to try the sandwiches and the goat. They even serve an Ethiopian breakfast, though I’m not sure I’m up for ful (mashed favas) or goat liver on injera so early in the morning. And I’d like to get to know the owner a little better. He’s from Harar, the more ancient of Ethiopia’s two major cities. I’m guessing that some of the flavors in the food at Gereny derive from Harar’s history as a trading crossroads, more open to influence from the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere than Addis Ababa, where Abyssinia’s owners come from.

Full and happy, we departed with leftovers. All this -- three courses, juice, enough food for 5 or 6, really -- cost us $25. Yeah, we’ll definitely go back.

Gereny is located at 2356 Jackson Ave, at Biggs, and is open 7 days/week from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. To confirm the availability of menu items you might want to call ahead at (901) 458-6330. There's ample parking behind the restaurant.

Gereny East African and Mediterranean on Urbanspoon

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