Viva Las Vegans: Bunna Cafe

05/07/2014 4:00 AM |

Bunna Cafe
1084 Flushing Avenue, Bushwick

How about some good old-fashioned vegan food? Vegetarian fare these days too often involves a newfangled version of nut-cheese or some innovative soy-based meat substitute, but Bunna Café serves wholesome plant-based recipes that have been savored for centuries. The Ethiopian vegan restaurant, which started out as a Smorgasburg stall, has grown into a big Bushwick storefront: table lamps bring a soft glow to the dim, expansive space and make it feel like a mellow college-town coffee shop. But Bunna’s traditional Ethiopian coffee goes beyond what’s normally poured at an undergrad java house. A few times a week, the restaurant hosts a traditional coffee ceremony, which involves burning frankincense and myrrh, roasting beans over a tiny stove, grinding the beans by hand with a mortar and pestle, and brewing them in an ornate pot with aromatic spices. With or without the ceremony, the rich and smooth little cups of coffee make Bunna worth a visit.

There’s a lot to love on the appetizer menu, too, like mildly spiced lentils wrapped in crisp puff pastries and bowls of butecha selata, a bright green salad of chopped kale, red onion, zingy lime juice and dried cranberries. (The craisins might not be traditional, but they bring a nice touch of sweetness.) If you can handle the mouth-numbingly spicy kategna—dark brown squares of injera (that spongy Ethiopian bread) toasted just until crisp, rubbed with super-spicy awaze (hot pepper paste) and drizzled with olive oil—you may want to temper the spice with a pureed avocado drink, which is thick as a milkshake and layered with sweet grenadine. (At press-time, Bunna is still waiting on a liquor license and does not allow BYOB.)

The best way to sample the rest of the menu is to order Bunna’s healthy and hearty nine-dish sampler that feeds two for $28 (or three for $39, or four for $48). Our shared feast was plated like a giant artist’s palette, a huge slab of injera dotted with scoops of crimson julienned beets, dollops of golden-hued split peas, orangey-red piles of Berber-spiced lentils and dabs of green kale prepared two ways: some steamed with ginger and garlic, some served raw with olive oil and lime juice. Less colorful dishes included earthy sautéed mushrooms, a fresh, crunchy cabbage slaw, and a rather bland concoction of wet, shredded injera that benefited from a bowl of daata: a grainy, super-spicy paste of awaze, cilantro, garlic and sherry. If you’re ordering a smaller sampling of dishes, be sure to include the spicy red lentils, or misir wot, which are sufficientely protein-rich so you won’t find yourself missing the meat. And if you’ve got room for dessert, the vegan baklava replaces the typical honey glaze with coffee-infused demerara syrup.