Want a savoury Ethiopian breakfast? You can find it in Toronto's Moss Park area
Enat Buna is located at 175 Queen St. E.
As an evolving city, we're seeing how new development projects have a tendency to strip neighbourhoods of the indie business culture that gives them a distinguishable identity.
In most cases we lose fragile food gems, like Tacos 101. In some cases the restaurants move to other neighbourhoods, they move to other areas or close down altogether.
But in rare cases, resilient owners manage to stay in the area. This is what Enat Gulelat did.
Gulelat operated Ethiopiques, a small restaurant at the corner of Dundas Street and Church Street for eight years. There she built a loyal following due to her flair for making vegetables central to the dining experience.
Whether you had a bowl of misr wot (spicy lentils) or gomen (kale leaves cooked with jalapeno and spoonfuls of garlic), it became evident that Gulelat's veggie dishes were standouts compared to other options in the city.
Ordering a Yetsom Beyaynetu, a vegetarian platter, became the best way to enjoy her cooking.
She would make nearly a dozen variations of cooked vegetables, from lentils to carrots and kale. She spread them over locally sourced injera, a fermented Ethiopian flatbread.
There's something deeply satisfying about tearing a piece of injera and using it to journey your way across the crunch, salty, spicy and stewy parts of the platter.
One of the first reactions you should have is that everything feels lighter and fresher, like it was cooked a la minute; it was, Gulelat doesn't scoop anything from pots, her cooking takes time because she cooks each dish individually.
One of the key distinguishing factors of her cooking is the use of kulet: an Ethiopian spice mixture that is used as the base for a variety of dishes from wot (stews) to sautéed vegetables. Gulelat makes her own kulet.
"There's the dark, spicy version with berbere and one I make with turmeric, which is not spicy," she said.
Meat lovers won't feel discounted. Gulelat's take on the national Ethiopian dish of doro wat, a chicken stew is my favourite item to accompany the vegetables.
It's a simple composition of whole bone-in chicken parts cooked in her spicy kulet. Gulelat cooks it low and slow to keep the meat tender. It's unassuming on the platter, meat covered in a thick dark sauce. When you eat it, there's sourness and tang at first, followed by the hot chili and earthy cumin characteristics.
Gulelat's Ethiopiques restaurant was mainly frequented by cab drivers and Ethiopians that would drive in from Rexdale or Brampton. In my five years or so of going there, I never once had a bad meal.
After eight years, Gulelat was faced with tough choices. I managed to sneak in a few meals before the doors closed last winter.
I constantly asked Gulelat what her plans were. She shrugged and responded, "I want to stay in this area. I don't know. We will see."
For months, I was trying to track her down. I kept my eyes open for the restaurant's name to pop up in the 'burbs somewhere, but no luck.
Mid-spring, a sign went up for a new restaurant called Enat Buna in the Moss Park neighbourhood. I was walking along Queen Street East one day when I noticed it and went in to have a meal. To my surprise, Gulelat greeted me with a menu.
"I wanted to make it more personal with this restaurant," she said of the shop's new name.
"I am happy I managed to find something in the neighbourhood."
From my experience, Gulelat's case is rare.
When independent shop owners are priced or pushed out of a neighbourhood they rarely find a new address nearby. Gulelat wanted to maintain her customer base, one that she had built for over eight years. Her solution was to find a slowly gentrifying area where rent is still somewhat affordable.
It's still under the radar. Her restaurant is located in a small strip mall of low-rise buildings across from Moss Park.
Some of her fans from Ethiopiques have rediscovered her, but with the name change I'm sure many are still unaware that Gulelat has reopened a quick walk from her old location.
At Enat Buna, Gulelat's cooking has new life. All of her popular dishes are back and there's some new ones.
"There are very few places in the city that do Ethiopian breakfast," she said, presenting a bowl of ful.
The fava bean dish is one of her new items, which is traditional to parts of the Middle East and Africa. Gulelat's version is slightly tweaked from her childhood memories.
She cooks mushed beans with garlic and onions and finishes the sautéed mixture of beans with ghee and sour cream and tops it with boiled eggs.
Mix it all around and scoop it onto a piece of flatbread. It's creamy and rich with underlining pops of heat from the sliced jalapenos she adds to the mixture.
While it may be a little rich for those who prefer a simpler start to the day, there's just enough ful that you feel satisfied.