Lucy's Market: Comfort food perfection for worn feet and confused hearts

Like opening a present!

Like opening a present! Lauren Haun

As a confident home cook, I tend to limit my restaurant-hopping—there’s just so much I can make myself.

But sometimes you get stuck with two dish pit shifts in a row. Or it’s your third heavy flow day, and your ovaries are tussling for queen of your body cavity. A delivery pizza would sit like a brick, only wrecking your delicate vessel even more. You need a plate of real food—and my go-to is Ethiopian from Lucy's Market & Carry-Out.

Lucy’s has a slick website and is integrated with BiteSquad, and if you really feel floppy you can get a meal delivered. But today, I feel bold: I will CARRY OUT! I order one of each type of sambusa (chicken, beef, lentil) and the key wot stew.

Lucy’s is a little north of the 38th Street and Cedar Avenue intersection in Minneapolis. Inside, the walls are painted a turmeric gold with red and green accents. Front and center, there’s a table set up for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which is such a welcoming vibe. An open kitchen sits at the back, with large shelves on the right hand side filled with plastic containers of green coffee beans, spices, lentils, grains—all the essentials for Ethiopian cooking, ready for purchase.

I’m greeted with a thousand-kilowatt smile from a woman in a smart pink uniform, Lucy logo on both hat and polo. She asks if I’d also like baklava—a shrewd up-sell. YES. What monster says no to baklava? I ask her about her cooking classes, since I spotted the events pages on my feed. “Oh yes, I need to make the next one, but I haven’t had the time! Do you follow us on Facebook?”

Social media savvy while offering me pastries. A woman after my own heart.

“The next class will be vegan, since a group requested one. Are you vegan?”

Nope! I just have a Meat is Murder face. People have been assuming I’m vegetarian since high school. She tells me about the class, adding that they all make food together and each participant goes home with a container of red lentils and berbere spice mix. I start asking her about the sides accompanying the stew and what greens she uses. “Collards, but you can use kale!” And the cheese?

“Cottage cheese. You can make it.” She goes on to describe the process of heating milk and adding vinegar until it curdles and separates and it is cooled and strained.

Our conversation rolls into two food nerds talking about techniques and flavors. She tells me about her steak and salmon cooking skills, which she put to use during a special Valentine’s Day dinner this year (HOW DID I MISS THIS?), and that she also loves to make Italian and Mexican dishes. I leave with my takeout and some lentils, inspired to get back into the kitchen once I regain some energy.

Once at home, I unfurl my takeout and head straight for the wax bag of sambusas. They’re perfectly crisp, not a drop of excess grease, and have an incredible crunch for something that traveled all the way to my house. Fried foods usually only retain their charm for about 10 minutes max after exiting the oil, so the fact that these were still crispy melted my mind. The steak is hearty, with chopped beef inside. It’s meaty but doesn’t give much flavor on its own—in comparison to other takeout, that is. It still knocks most fried apps out of the park. The chicken is the most flavorful, the meat ground so fine it’s almost like a chicken puff. It’s soft and lush and has deep chili and cilantro flavor. Magic. I could knock down an entire plate of these in a blink. The lentil version the most hearty; three could serve as a light lunch with a salad on the side and almost manage to be “meatier” then the beef version. The bright, golf-course-green sauce is based in cilantro and chili and has a great consistency, enough to dip and scoop some heat without being watery like some other sambusa sauces.

With a creak of styrofoam, I pull open the lid of another container, and there are soft folds of injera tucked snugly inside like a baby’s blanket.

How do I describe injera to those who have never been blessed? It is a flatbread made with teff flour, soft yet hefty, and it tears easily but is strong enough to scoop mouthfuls of stew with ease. Its deep pores soak up sauce, and it has a tangy flavor slightly like sourdough—but richer. It makes a squish, the same sort of squish that mashed potatoes make when pressed with the back of a fork. It fills the belly like a soft hug and is straight ancestor food. After gently peeling back the injera layers, I find one half of the box is filled with a deep red stew, and the other side has cottage cheese in one corner and stewed greens in the other. Everything is kept separate in its bread containers. The portions for this one dish are enough to feed two people comfortably… or one very hungry lady over the course of eight hours.

The key wot is a beef stew that is a rich red color, rich with berbere spice that has just enough heat to bring you back to your feet. It’s pleasantly cooled by mixing in a dab of the cottage cheese. The beef chunks add a bit of texture to the smooth stew, and the collard greens are deeply stewed and tender, with the perfect amount of chew. The cottage cheese is milky with a fine curd, and honestly, it reminds me not of the gloopy cottage cheese sold in stores but more of a fresh ricotta. It's creamy and calms the spice without tamping down the flavor.

Visually, you would think is meal would be texturally unexciting, but the variation among the soft injera, silky key wot, toothy collards, and creamy cottage cheese is familiar yet exciting enough that all the mouthfuls come easy until I’m at the limit of my stretch leggings.

But: There’s dessert!

The baklava has a very crisp top, but breaks with a plastic spoon. It releases some syrup, but it isn’t sitting in a pool of it. With crunchy layers of walnuts and pastry, the flavor reminds me of those green-package honey and oat granola bars, and I mean that in the best way. I’m filled with memories of long rambling hikes and sunshine.

I stretch out on my couch and feel my cells recharge, radiating from my full belly outward. Lucy’s makes food for comfort and health; it heals worn feet and confused hearts. This is the stuff that fortifies. The time time you need to rebuild yourself after a disappointing kickball game or terrifying test results or just a Wednesday that won’t quit, phone in to Lucy’s. Or take a cooking class with Aster, and enjoy the warm glow of her culinary knowledge.

Lucy's Market & Carry-Out
3749 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis