Hours: Noon to midnight, Monday through Sunday.
Price Range: Entrees are all under $4.50.
Atmosphere: Authentic Ethiopian cooking; located in a renovated townhouse in Adams-Morgan; attentive, friendly service.
Reservations: Advised; especially necessary at dinner because the small dining room fills up fast.
Credit Cards: Master Charge, Visa, NAC.
Special Facilities: Patrons in wheelchairs can call ahead to get help from the staff in negotiating the steps to the Axum's entrance; booster chairs; children's portions; on-street parking.
We really fouled up this time, I muttered as I glanced at the menu. This was no place for kids. Spicy stews, curried dishes and a vegetable entree called yetsom wott. Not a salisbury steak or fried shrimp in sight.
And who made off with all the silverware?
Furthermore, what child would like a place that offers no appetizers, or, heaven help us, desserts?
As it turned out, our two girls, aged 10 and 13, made me eat my words along with my dinner -- they thought the Axum, an Ethiopian restaurant in Adams-Morgan, was just fine.
True, the esoteric menu probably rules out the Axum as a appropriate place to take the very young, but older ones will find it a novelty.
The part our liked best was scooping up the food with pieces of bread, or injera, Ethiopia's answer to crepes and pancakes. This explains the missing silverware -- you don't need it.
The Axum, named after an ancient city (and home of the Queen of Sheba) in Ethiopia, does, of course, supply you quite nicely with other amenities such as linen napkins and several gallons of water to bank th fires of its spicy fare.
Located in a refurbished townhouse on 18th Street, its small dining room is modestly but pleasantly decorated with African crafts and a big photo of the obelisk in downtown Axum.
The menu features about a dozen entrees, all under $4.50. Most are meat-and-vegetable (or rice) combinations, and no salads or side dishes are served. Certain dishes can be customed order for spiciness; not so hot, medium and ya-ha! Beyond that, there is no catering to American tastes.
My brother, an old Axum hand who lives in the neighborhood, urged us to all order different things and share them.
Unless you go the Axum alone, you almost have to share. Shortly after placing our orders, the waitress arrived with a huge platter that was set in the middle of the table. It was lined with the injera bread, which has a light, spongy texture and is not unlike a thick crepe.
Out orders came in individual bowls, but the waitress emptied each one in a neat arrangement on the platter, along with some hot pepper paste. She also brought along a basket of injera.
She got us launched by tearing off pieces of bread, using it to scoop up food from the platter, and popping an offering into each of our mouths. This wasn't just for show-and-tell, but is a hospitable custom from Ethiopia.
Ethopian cooking relies heavily on spices -- garlic, cumin, curry, ginger and cardomon. The girls especially liked the tibse -- chunks of beef, green pepper and onion -- because it was fairly mild (and easier to grab with injera).
The lamb stew, shredded lamb in a fiery sauce, was wonderful but it helped to follow it with a taste of the yetsom wott, a gentle combination of carrots, potatoes and onions.
The curried chicken stew was tricky to share since it consists of a whole chicken leg and one hard boiled egg in a fragrant sauce. We also had ruz, a spicy beef stew served over rice, and a mild lam curry that got lost among the very distinctive flavors of the other dishes.
In the beverage department, the Axum does offer cocktails, beer and wine, soft drinks and good coffee. And if you want dessert, there's an ice cream parlor a few doors up the street (plus several small cafes in this growing and lively area.)
This finger-licking adventure cost our family of four $26.19, including tip.
Who knows what made the Axum so appealing to the girls -- the food, the cheery service, the legitimate chance to consume an entire meal with their fingers. Perhaps they realized that what they ate at the Adams-Morgan Axum was pretty much the same as the meals consumed by folks in Ethiopia's Axum.