The first person you will likely encounter at Feedel Bistro on Briarcliff Road is a tall statuesque woman named Tamar Telahun. Never mind that you are complete strangers. Or that a table of 16 is waiting on her to bring its doro wat, lamb-and-collard stew and rolls of injera bread to sop it all up with. Telahun will greet you as if you are an old friend, as if she has all the time in the world. “Hello! How are you dooo-ing?” she says, beaming warmly.
It’s easy to see why, in one year’s time, Feedel Bistro has become one of Atlanta’s most celebrated Ethiopian and Eritrean kitchens.
First there is Telahun. A one-woman welcome committee and hostess extraordinaire, she runs the restaurant with her retiring older brother, Simon Gebru, who is likely to stop you on your way out to ask about your meal.
Then there is the food itself, the spicy, aromatic home cooking their Eritrean mother brought to America when she fled Ethiopia in the 1980s. Meaza Habtemichael, now 82, doesn’t run the kitchen; instead, her children have trained a staff to replicate her recipes. So when you dip into the ye’shimbra asa (tiny chickpea biscuits in spicy red sauce), the bright raw collard and cabbage green salad, or anything touched by the heat of bright-red berbere gravy, you will taste the family’s culinary legacy.
In a handsomely designed, almost spalike room of teal and rattan, you can feast on lusty chicken, lamb, beef and seafood dishes, or astonishingly flavorful vegan fare. Don’t do gluten? The fabled spongy, tangy flatbread known as injera is available here as it is served in the motherland — made with teff (a supergrain native to the Horn of Africa that until fairly recently was hard to find in the States) rather than wheat. Part of the genius of Feedel is that you can eat to your heart’s content and walk away without feeling like a slug.
One smart way to experience this heavenly style of dining is to order a vegan sampler with teff injera. But first, why not try an appetizer of azifah or sambusa? The azifah (whole brown lentils with a nice heat and acid) is served chilled on dainty pita triangles and topped with sliced jalapeno. Think of azifah as a delicious, clean-tasting, plant-based meat ball, if you will. Sambusas are a bit more substantial: fried, triangular savory pastries similar to India’s samosas. We loved Feedel’s chicken-filled version, perked up with a basil-mayo-roasted jalapeno dipping sauce.
And now on to that vegan spread. It looks like an artist’s palette dotted with riotously colorful edible blobs: red lentils; brown lentils; yellow split peas; azifah; silken collards and cabbage; ye’shimbra asa; and sil’jo, a hummus-like sauce of fermented white beans, a wonderful foil to the intense spices. The best part of it all may be the remaining injera, after it’s absorbed all the juices. If you have leftovers, ask your server to roll it all up and put it in a to-go box. You won’t be sorry.
Mom’s Special gomen be’siga, a buttery stew of tender lamb and cabbage served with a side of red lentils, is an absolute knockout, as is the doro wat (here called doro wet). A traditional red-pepper stew with a chicken leg, a hard-boiled egg and house-made farmer’s cheese, doro wat is the first thing I order at an Ethiopian restaurant. It’s my cellar door, and Feedel’s version makes me very happy.
We also enjoyed our Sagla’s spris, a heady concoction of berbere with garlic, onion, chunks of tomatoes and choice of meat. (We liked the chicken, which naturally tasted better the longer it absorbed the sauce.) You may also choose to add berbere to the lega tibs. Another buttery lamb (or beef) dish that straddles the line between stir-fry and stew, it’s made with tomatoes, jalapenos and aromatics, including a big sprig of rosemary. I liked the essence of the tibs, though our beef was a bit chewy.
To soften the punch of big flavors, consider adding a salad to your repast. A toss of chopped red onion, tomato, raw cabbage and collard greens, pepped up with jalapeno and a citrusy vinaigrette, was just the ticket: a tribute to how a few simple ingredients, artfully mixed, can be greater than the sum of its parts.
The same can be said of the kitfo, or Ethiopian beef tartare. Buttery and nicely seasoned, the tartare takes on added appeal when you sprinkle it with chile powder and take it with a bite of the accompaniments: collards and salty white farmer’s cheese (ayeb). You can order it raw, slightly sauteed or fully cooked; I opted for the cold and liked it just fine, though I’m thinking a quick shake over a flame might have brightened the flavors and softened the butter.
The restaurant has a formidable list of fanciful European-style pastries: Napoleon, opera cake, raspberry chocolate mousse, all outsourced. We tried the Napoleon and the milk chocolate hazelnut crunch, and while opulent to look at, they were pretty lackluster. And we couldn’t bring ourselves to try any of the signature cocktails, which except for the margarita sound cloying and over-the-top.
The more essential sip here is Ethiopian honey wine, which reminds me a bit of a sweet rose. Telahun told me her party of 16 was drinking it by the bottleful. She also apologized that service was a little unfocused that night, explaining that some of her team had called in sick. I was so preoccupied sopping up my doro wat I barely noticed.
At a DeKalb crossroads that has a considerable Ethiopian dining presence, Feedel is a rarity: exquisitely fresh Eritrean food in a tasteful environment. In honoring their mother as well as the cuisine of the motherland, Telahun and Gebru prove they were raised right, as we say in the American South. Hospitality comes as easy to them as pouring cups of the famous coffee from their native soil. The food is already top-notch; their kindness and joy only sweeten the pleasure.
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: Ethiopian and Eritrean home cooking pays tribute to owners’ 82-year-old mom
Service: kind, welcoming, eager to explain the cuisine and answer questions
Best dishes: Azifah. Sambusa. Raw collard and cabbage salad. Mom’s Special gomen be’siga. Doro wat. Sagla’s spris with chicken. Vegan sampler.
Vegetarian selections: Azifa. Various salads. And a number of entrees, including shiro (puree of legumes), sel’si fitfit (pieces of injera in spicy tomato sauce), mushroom tibs, ye’shimbra asa (tiny chickpea biscuits in spicy sauce). Vegan sampler.
Price range: $$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Parking: ample free parking in the shopping center lot
MARTA station: Chamblee
Reservations: yes; recommended for parties of eight or more
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: low
Address, phone: 3125 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta. 404-963-2905