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Ethiopian Pop-Up Cafe 'Bunna' Hosts 'Secret Dinner Series'

By Meredith Hoffman | July 8, 2012 11:07am | Updated on July 9, 2012 9:49am
Cooks prepared a meal for Bunna cafe.
Cooks prepared a meal for Bunna cafe.
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Bunna Cafe

BUSHWICK — Sam Saverance is seeking a permanent home for the spongy sourdough, coffee ceremonies and performance stage of his Bunna Cafe — but for now the vegan Ethiopian eatery is bouncing to different Bushwick lofts in a "secret dinner series."

Bunna Cafe ("bunna" means coffee in Ethiopian) offers a multi-sensory experience of music, food, incense and decor, said Saverance, a Texas native who partnered with two Ethiopian-born New Yorkers to start the new business this year.

So far Bunna has held three "secret dinner" parties.

"The space is an apartment and we overhaul it completely to make it a restaurant," said Saverance, 35, of the monthly three-course meals at locations he would not disclose. "You have to RSVP before you find out where to go."

Bunna Cafe has sold food at local street fairs, and plans to have a table at Roberta's Pizza's annual Bushwick block party July 28.

"I really fell in love with the culture and the cuisine," Saverance said of his time in Ethiopia in 2008 that motivated him to start Bunna, a combination of art, rituals and tastes that he hoped would connect people with the country more dynamically than just as a "kitchy, nostalgic experience."

Saverance, who plans to open his restaurant by the end of this year in Bushwick or East Williamsburg (in a space he has not yet chosen), said his partner Chuny Ali did all the cooking.

"The great thing about doing vegan Ethiopian is there's so much flavor in the food you don’t miss the meat, it already has a very hearty taste," Saverance said of the spicy, rich cuisine, served with Injera sourdough flatbread to "compliment the flavor of the food."

At a dinner party on Sunday, attendees (whose tickets cost $30) will start off with habesha salad of kale, walnuts, raisins and avocado, according to the event website. The main course includes gomen alicha (steamed kale, potatoes, and carrots iwth herbs), keysir (simmered beets, potatoes and onion), and yemisir wot (red lentils with spicy red pepper and garlic sauce), to name a few.

"It's a very colorful cuisine," Saverance said.

And two special Bunna Cafe drinks compliment the meal: the Shai Correnti — a concoction of Bourbon whiskey, Ethiopian spiced tea, turbinado syrup and lime on the rocks — and a twist on the typical White Russian dubbed "The Pushkin" (in honor of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin who allegedly had Ethiopian roots) with Ethiopian coffee, Vodka, sunflower milk and mint.

And to end, Ali performs a coffee ceremony, he said, which includes roasting the coffee beans while lighting incense that "creates this mix of flavors and smells that wafts around the room."

"In Ethiopia it's the main social event of the day," he said of the ceremony, which he plans to have every day when he opens a permanent cafe. "I felt there were a lot of things [in Ethiopia] that could be imported to New York culture."

And while the partners develop their dinner parties, pop up events and more long-term space, they will also start running the Brooklyn Farm and Flea market founded this summer by dandelion coffee maker Courtney Novak.

"We are planning on our first revamped event in the first week of August," he said, noting that the market would be adding more music and entertainment acts. "I had been planning on doing a major flea market event for almost a year now and I feel very lucky to have met Courtney when I did."