A Sankofa Moment

Ethopian Coffee with Milk

In the Ghanaian culture, there is an adinkra symbol of a bird with its body pointing forward while looking backward. That symbol represents moving forward wherever you go, but never forgetting from where you came. When I first moved to Chicago proper, having spent three years in the Northern Suburbs after moving from New York, I lived in a North Side neighbourhood called Rogers Park. Filled with small restaurants, independent coffee houses, plenty of culture, lots of forward thinking, and a surprising strong sense of community, I loved that area of Chicago. And then I moved to the South Side of Chicago. I would always return to Rogers Park for some kind of cultural or emotional fare because that was where I really learned a lot about appreciation of food, friendship, and roots.

Today I returned to Rogers Park to visit an African shop owned by a Nigerian who I call Uncle Al — his name being too long to type. My trips to Rogers Park had become less frequent over the past ten years in part to travel and living abroad, so the neighbourhood looked very much diet in nature compared to days past. Gone was my favourite coffee house. Gone were several small hole-in-the-wall eateries. Gone was a familiar that I boasted about wildly during my years of living in Rogers Park. After a long visit with Uncle Al and listening to him explain how there had been businesses closing on the main stretch of Sheridan Avenue while positive changes have sprouted on side streets like Morse Avenue, he offered a suggestion for a coffee house that was walking distance from his shop.

Vegetarian Plate, Ethiopian Style

It was off to Royal Coffee at 6764 N. Sheridan Avenue. Nice and spacious like many independent coffee houses, this eatery boasts the boldest coffee that you can find in Chicago — true to independent coffee settings. I was not in the mood for any hot drinks, so I ordered an iced coffee with milk so that I could enjoy it while reading the newspaper on my Kindle. I sat and talked with the owner who explained that the establishment had been open for two years and that Royal Coffee is the only coffee house in Chicago that adds an Ethiopian flare to the menu. Business owners love to present themselves as being pioneers in the business in which they are conducting, but anyone who has had Ethiopian coffee knows you cannot find that kind of taste in just any brick and mortar setting. So when the owner made her declaration, she was accurate 100%. There are also Ethiopian dishes that you may order for the palate. Having eating quite a bit of food earlier in the day, I opted to order an authentic vegetarian meal for take-away: spinach, split peas, lentils, and a melange of vegetables, all served with traditional ingera bread. We shall simply say that my food addiction gave in to the fantastic morsels of food I indulged later.

Royal Coffee is the only Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago that serves breakfast. I have never had an Ethiopian breakfast and there will be a Saturday or a day that I take off from work for a mental health day that I will block for a return for some morning fare. The food that I had ordered was absolutely delicious, in the same vein as the major Ethiopian restaurants in the city, so I can imagine the breakfasts are equally satisfying. Outstanding service, low prices, quality food, and an invitation to return. It was hard to say no to a return, not that I tried. While Rogers Park may have undergone some changes — be they good, bad, or indifferent — it was super discovering Royal Coffee. If it were not for sankofa, I would never have discovered the gem on Sheridan Avenue called Royal Coffee. Thanks, Uncle Al. Or as I would usually way to him, Ushay.

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