Queen of Sheba is like the fabled city of Brigadoon, appearing for a short amount of time every few years and then vanishing without a trace. I first heard about the place many years back via word of mouth. Intrigued by the idea of Ethiopian cuisine, I tried numerous times over the years to track it down but could find nothing. The website still lists two former addresses; one on Bowden, one on Emerson, neither of which existed the few times I tried in vain to stop by. As you can imagine, I was quite overjoyed to find out that they had recently re-appeared off Atlantic and I resolved to stop by before the next scheduled vanishing.
Ethiopian cuisine is characterized by abundance of spiced meat and vegetable dishes; most in a thick, stew-like form similar in consistency to many of the heartier, lentil based curries of India. These dishes are eaten using pieces of injera, a unique, sourdough flatbread which is quite like a pancake in its consistency and texture but with a sour, doughy flavor. This is your only utensil.
The Queen of Sheba's location is sketchy enough to scare away more cautious diners and the decor is on par with many of my favorite ethnic dives around town. In these surrounds, it's easy to imagine that you're overseas in a less prosperous place and, for me at least, this is an essential component to the experience.
Being curious and wanting to try as much as I could, I fought the urge to try some amazing sounding dishes and settled on the meat platter. I can't remember the names of the items presented in the sampler but they probably wouldn't mean anything to you anyway. Beef, lamb, chicken were all present and in abundance though they were largely unrecognizable in their spicy, stewed form. Overall the sampler was rather good with a unique array of spices. Some of the dishes were quite unlike anything I'd tried before.
One great thing about the Queen of Sheba and Ethiopian cuisine in general is that there's always lots of vegetarian options. We ordered the Misir Wot: Split red lentils cooked in red pepper sauce. They were really good and pleasantly spicy. Despite being forever tempted by meat and veggie dishes when we dine out, I might not be able to resist this one on a return visit.
My one word of advice to anyone intrigued enough to visit would be to take it easy on the bread; it's very filling and causes a gastric sensation I'm not quite used to which can be unsettling for a first timer.
Our first sampling of Ethiopian food was quite the experience and I'm glad I finally caught up with the ever elusive Queen of Sheba. I love that we have a decent number of small places serving ethnic cuisines and I only wish there were more.
Queen of Sheba
10214 Atlantic Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32225