Queen of Sheba celebrates her one-year reign | Restaurant Beat | Indy Week
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Queen of Sheba celebrates her one-year reign 

For a restaurant, the facade is certainly not the most attractive. Green paint worked thick on the outer structure gives it a military encampment look. However, the inside of Queen of Sheba, at 115 North Graham St. in Chapel Hill, offers a cozy dining experience, a serving staff as friendly as can be, and the aromas of Ethiopian cooking as dense as its exterior paint.

This week, Queen of Sheba celebrated its first-year anniversary.

Owner/chef Friesha (pron. free-yesha) Genet Dabei had only last year ended her 10-year run as chef/owner at the Blue Nile in Durham. She began the Durham restaurant as a kiosk, serving food through a small window and grew it into a successful restaurant where patrons might choose to wait over an hour to be fed from an extensive menu of moderately spiced well-seasoned savories.

When she left, Friesha relinquished everything associated with the restaurant, including her wine-making house, where she would daily climb a tall ladder to stir the hops wood sedimentaround an enormous pot. Her wine-making recipe was handed down from her grandmother in Addis Ababa, and remains a well-guarded secret that she hopes one day to revive.

After a few stints exploring other modes of work, Friesha's desire to return to cooking began to burn. In no time, she received all forms of assistance, including a friend pointing the way to the spot on North Graham. Shortly, a community of people appeared to paint walls, put down carpets on cement floors, donate supplies and purchase advertising space. Some worked for nothing, while others traded service for a lunch of njira, traditional Ethiopian bread and yemsir kay watt, pureed lentil mixed with a spicy hot sauce.

The restaurant, which now provides lunch and dinner six days a week, except Monday, serves college professors to high school drop-outs seeking a comfortable place to eat and tear bread together, turning acquaintances into pals in a matter of bites over a shared vegetarian platter.

Around Town


The Cooking Show, organized by the event company "Hats Off," debuts Oct. 18 at the Raleigh Convention Center, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Food Network celebrity Alton Brown will be one of the featured cooking luminaries, presenting two onstage interactive demos an hour each. There'll be an ostrich cooking presentation, pasta-making for kids, local artists displaying their work of handmade eating vessels/utensils and a Marshall Brain seminar on the science of food. And Jan Curry, whose edible arts can be found in the Smithsonian, will demonstrate her famous gingerbread house. For more information visit www.thecookingshow.com or call 866-237-7583...

Owners Sam and Massi Sanjar of the U.S. Market Restaurant, which serves Persian specialties three nights a week in RTP, have opened Kabobi inside the Crabtree Valley Mall food court. The Sanjars have taken what they call the original kabob recipe from Persia and placed it in a contemporary setting for quick eats. The menu will feature kabob, which refers to anything that can go on a grill, marinated in a special blend of Persian spices, vegetarian stews and kofta, marinated ground sirloin and spice infused chicken breast. Persian ice cream prepared with saffron and rose water and falodh, a noodle granite, will be some of the dessert choices. What is especially nice is that everything on the menu is under $6! Currently, Kabobi will be open for lunch and dinner and breakfast service is scheduled to begin in October...

Portobello Grill, 7901-101 Falls of the Neuse, close to celebrating its ninth anniversary, has made a few changes to compete with what chef/owner Andrew Booger terms the "Cheesecake Factory/chain invasion."

"What we've been forced to do is lower our prices and direct our restaurant to become more family-style friendly and affordable," he says. Sales are better since he made menu changes, eliminating some of the more costly ingredients while maintaining high-quality, fresh food, he says.

"America's love of the chain restaurant has caused the independently-owned to suffer," he says. Portobello, which currently serves dinner only, will be cautiously opening its doors in December to serve lunch...

Carolina Sushi and Roll opened July 18 in the North Ridge Shopping Center on Falls of the Neuse. Owner Kelly Kim, a former textile company owner, decided to enter the restaurant industry when his business became slow due to the lackluster economy.

Carolina Sushi serves what Kim terms "Japanese fusion" in quick time. The menu offers a variety of unique hand rolls, including a "snow cone roll" made with fresh water eel and sliced avocado wrapped around the outside of the rice. All menu items are under $8...

The Cockeyed Chef, 301 Glenwood Ave. will be presenting a dinner entitled "Hot Latin Wines" featuring wines from the hot, spicy regions of Spain, Argentina and Chile paired with a four-course feast prepared by Chef Gino Izetta. The evening's cost is $45. Reservations are required 919 743-0560...

April and George's, a wine bar at 414 Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh, in conjunction with Beyond Catering, will present on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. a five course dinner, with casual seating, paired with select wines. In the future months, April and George intend to open a tapas kitchen on premises, employing the culinary talents of a chef the duo are transporting in from Alaska...

Business is good for Venu Gogusetti, owner of Suchi Indian Cuisine, 748 East Chatham St. in Cary. So good that he purchased the space next door to his restaurant and upped his seating by half. To what does he attribute his good fortune? "The reason I became a restaurant owner is that food is my passion. I'm a great eater and I know Indian food. The chefs at my restaurant really cook Indian food. We have some customers that come once a week and some that come every day," he says. Suchi's daily buffet, which offers over 30 items, includes curries such as goat, dosas and authentic Hyderabadi biryani.


Brian Merganthaler is the new chef at Vertigo Diner, 426 South McDowell St., offering what he calls," strange Southern fare". After Merganthaler worked the circuit from chef de cuisine at Humble Pie to chef at Nofo where he saw the food "heading toward Appleby's," he decided he didn't want to go that route. So far he's been getting "good feedback" by keeping some of the menu favorites, i.e. meatloaf, shrimp and grits and then adding his own bend on the South-"10 kind mushroom pate," spare ribs with his own brand of sauce and roast chicken with a pecan-and-peach gravy....oh and it's stuffed with gorgonzola...

After 14 years at Erwin Square, the Marketplace Restaurant has closed. The popular lunch spot has changed hands; the new owner is Steve Martin, former executive director of the Carolina Theater. Mountain Valley Restaurant will open there soon, accommodating more patrons and creating an atmosphere "reminiscent of a bright autumn day in the mountains...with great food of course," Martin says. The cafe will be open seven days from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m., serving breakfast through to closing, signature sandwiches and other lunch items...

Francesca's on Ninth Street is beginning to grow into a new, larger space. The new, improved gelatoria will offer more room for Ninth Street perusers and room to accommodate live music and art shows benefiting artists and non-profits. The other news for Francesca's is that owners Karin Mills and Linda Bourne have begun to package their patented soy ice cream by the pint, with flavors like Oreo crunch and chocolate peanut butter swirl, to sell through Weaver Street Market. "People, especially the ones in this community, are the reason we chose to work our 100-plus hour a week," Bourne says. They celebrate their five-year anniversary in the business of food this Nov. 26.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro

Restaurant Oishii, 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd. in the Timberlyne shopping center, is expected to open Sept. 19 after several months of renovation. For owner Jae Lee, opening a restaurant is a completely new experience. What Lee probably knows more about is the dental program at UNC, where he is currently enrolled. Jae's wife had originally wanted to open a Japanese take-out. When she approached her brother to do the sushi, he suggested that she open an authentic Japanese restaurant with all the trimmings....

Seth Kingsbury, the former chef de cuisine of Nana's, had a dream come true when he was asked to join, as chef/part owner, the restaurant formerly known as Annie's Trattoria and now officially called Pazzo at 700 Market St. in Southern Village. Working in restaurants since the tender age of 13, Kingsbury found his course directed by mentors like Jeremiah Tower, Ben Barker and Scott Howell. Pazzo's theme is "nouveau Italian," with the restaurant divided in two--a wall separating white linen dining from a pizza takeout; something that Kingsbury feels gives the place a "cool atmosphere." What does he intend to change of the original Annie's as he slowly recreates it? Keep the pizza the way it is but develop a gourmet takeout for people seeking healthy options with their slice to go.

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