I’m not one to write restaurant/food reviews. I just love to eat myself silly–really good food to put myself into a proper food coma. I know how to write. I know how to eat. Until today, the twain did not meet. But this is more than a glowing review of Tigi’s Ethiopian Restaurant & Market (8459 Baltimore National Pike #14 (Rte 40); Ellicott City, MD 21043)–it’s an examination of what love produces.
I discovered this little gem through a popular local food blogger. HowChow reported on a brand new Ethiopian restaurant–a casual and cozy place that’s been open for only five weeks. I respect this guy’s taste buds, and have I mentioned I love to eat? I walked into Tigi’s excited for a new gustatory adventure. I walked out madly in love.
There was only one other couple seated when we arrived late in the evening. My dining companion was wary of the sparse surroundings, especially when he overheard they were out of injera–the flatbread integral to the meal. The server let us know they were running out of fresh injera, but that they could re-heat yesterday’s injera. He didn’t have to tell us this. I appreciated his honesty and kindness. We decided to stay and give it a try since we likely would not be able to discern any difference.
(Insert sigh here)…One of the best decisions of my life. The food was AMAZING. The best Ethiopian food I’d had in years. So good that I ended up there three times in nine days. A larger pants size later, I am still madly in love. Turns out the server is the owner. A kind, graceful, personable man. We talked with him for quite some time. He’s an occupational therapist from Pennsylvania. Always wanted to own his own restaurant. His wife is a talented cook. I’m not the first to say this–their friends have always urged her to go into the food business. Eventually, she did some catering for events and church functions. Rave reviews kept pouring in. Their family grew. Their dreams continued to float.
He started scouting locations for a possible restaurant in York, PA. His realtor decided she could not continue working with him because she knew that if he were to succeed, he would have to move to a more diverse geographic area. She wanted him to succeed more than she wanted a commission. Kindness begets kindness.
They ended up moving to another state to be brave and courageous, and to fulfill their dreams because they love each other and love each other’s dreams. Each time I go, there are more patrons. In fact, the last time I went, every table was full, and I bumped into two different sets of friends! (Note to self: next time, wear clothes that actually match before running out for a quick bite to eat) I hear all the customers say they will be back, and will bring more people because their meals were so delicious.
As I tried describing the food to my friends, I realized it all tasted so good because they put so much passion and love into their food. Husband and wife prepare everything from scratch daily. You can feel and see and smell and taste the care they pour into the sauces and lentils and samosas and collard greens. That is what sets them apart. It is just the two of them in there, cooking, serving, cleaning, truly inquiring into each patron’s experience. I feel like I am visiting with them in their home. In fact, their precocious 4-year-old daughter sat and dined with us for quite some time on my last visit–she addresses me by my first name. She implored me not to leave, but instead stay with them–and wash the dishes.
She taught my daughter to dance, she told my son jokes and a secret. Her father taught me how they roast their own coffee beans and grind them with their version of mortar and pestle. He tells me about the paprika blend they use. We talk about recipes and swapping out certain ingredients for different nuanced effects, or the pros and cons of using different cuts of meat. I know they’ve recently lost a family member. He tells me my friend needs a lawyer.
Each time I walk out with my belly full of sustenance and my heart filled with kindness and grace. I know they’ve just shared a part of themselves through both their food and their conversations. I am grateful for both. I walk out into the world with a little bit of them with me. All of this is what sets them apart from other dining establishments. I so want them to succeed, because they are brave, and kind, and good–and aren’t those the things that should always win? And seriously, it is damn fine food.