On Friday, my girlfriend and I had to go by a store to shop for some holiday presents and some new cookware. On the way back home, we stopped by an Eritrean restaurant that we’d noticed before. We were both interested, knowing it was like Ethiopian food, but not much else. So we went on in, wondering what to expect.
The first thing we noticed was that it was cold. The building was a big box and the front door was wide open. There didn’t appear to be a heater on inside. The room was divided roughly into three parts: the far end from where we entered was a dark dining area, maybe a banquet room, separated from the rest by an archway. That end of the room too up about half the building. On the near side of the archway was a dining area with about a dozen table. And right next to the entrance on the left was a well-stocked bar.
There was a young man who looked like a young Michael Jackson behind the bar, talking loudly with three men who were leaning heavily on the bar for support. The rest of the building was completely empty.
A little confused, we asked the bartender if they were open for dinner. He directed a 10,000 watt smile our way and said of course, and would we please take whatever seats we liked?
We found a table and he brought us menus. As he walked away, my girlfriend looked at me earnestly and said “If you want to find someplace else to eat, I totally understand.” I thought about it hard.
True, the place wasn’t exactly inviting. And it was freezing. But it got high marks on Yelp and it was a bit of an adventure. I decided that the possible benefits *probably* outweighed the down sides. So I suggested we order and see how it went.
“It might be a pony”, I said.
This is a phrase that my buddy Dan and I coined at work several years ago. Dan had gotten a call from a customer whose server was suffering a hard drive problem. Dan had diagnosed it as probably being something that was going to be very expensive in terms of both time and money to fix. The customer was hoping really hard that it was a minor thing that could be easily fixed, but the easy fix could have destroyed the hard drive and made it even MORE expensive and time-consuming to fix.
I listened to the facts that Dan had gathered and agreed that what he was describing was probably not going to be helped by the easy fix that the customer was pushing Dan to implement. “But it might be a pony”, I said, suggesting that this unknown quantity might turn out to be a happy surprise like the gift pony that every kid looks for around the holiday season. Dan caught my drift and nodded.
I don’t remember what came about in that case, but I don’t think it was a pony.
My girlfriend understood the reference and we settled in, shivering slightly, while we placed our order and waited for the food to arrive. The men at the bar continued talking in what sounded like a heated argument in a Hamito-Semitic language that I couldn’t identify. But their demeanor at the bar suggested that they were pretty relaxed and enjoying themselves.
The waiter brought us the food and it was served very much like the food I’ve had in Ethiopian restaurants before. There were small mounds of lentils, stewed spinach and pickled root vegetables arranged on a large round piece of injira (spongy flat bread). There was also a large four-bowl brazier with different dishes in each bowl and a hot flame wafting out of the center.
The food was delicious. As soon as we started eating, all of our worries left us and the conversation became more animated, if more punctuated by long pauses as we shoveled morsels up using torn-off pieces of injira to pinch them up from the plate.
When we were done, the waiter returned with his illuminating smile and asked us if there was anything else we needed. I asked him what language they were speaking at the bar. “Oh, that’s Eritrean”, he said.
“Duh”, I thought to myself.
We also asked about one very savory meat dish from the brazier that we wanted to try again. “That’s okra”, he said.
“No, this is the okra. What’s this one next to it?”, we asked. He looked at the bowl which we had almost scraped empty and looked puzzled. “What is that? I’m not sure; let me check with the kitchen.”
As he walked off, I looked at my girlfriend as deadpan as I could and said, “. . . it might be a pony.”