Like many DeKalb residents who were born in other countries, Berhane Hagos shares the culture of his homeland through his business. A native of Eritrea, a small country on the horn of Africa, Hagos recently opened a restaurant/bar in Pine Lake that features the foods he grew up with.
“I call it The Red Sea Café to honor the most prominent feature of the country of my birth,” Hagos explained. The menu includes several dishes familiar to Hagos from his youth. “I’m not a cook. My mother did the cooking at home when I was growing up. Here I have hired cooks to prepare dishes the way she did,” he said, adding that he personally approves each dish before it is added to the menu.
The cuisine of Eritrea is quite similar to that of its neighbor to the south, Ethiopia, according to Hagos. Several of the African dishes are served on a plate-size piece of spongy flat bread that traditionally is used to scoop the stew-like dishes; however, Red Sea Café diners are provided forks and knives so that, if they prefer, they can eat American style.
Among the foods served this way are varieties of tibs—diced meats cooked with spices, onions, tomatoes and jalapeño peppers. Beef, chicken, lamb and fish tibs are available at Red Sea. Diners may also sample African-style lamb and chicken stews and a dish Hagos names among his personal favorites, the veggie platter, described on the menu as lentils cooked with berbere, split pea cooked with curry, and salad.
Non-African dishes include spaghetti Bolognese and Jamaican specialties such as ox tails, brown stew chicken, curry chicken and jerk chicken. Hagos said he is able to source most of the food locally, but spices for some recipes must be imported from Africa.
The main dining area has vibrant red walls and African artwork. The outer dining area, which does not have access to the bar, in addition to African décor has displays that allow guests to see how food and drink are consumed in east Africa. “This is how a family would dine,” Hagos said, indicating seats around large lidded baskets in which food is served. Another display features an African coffee service with pot and cups such as would be used in Eritrea or Ethiopia, an area known for its coffee.
Hagos said he is pleased to have found a location on Rockbridge Road, Pine Lake’s main thoroughfare. “There is a lot of traffic through here,” he said. “This building had been a restaurant before so there was already a kitchen and I didn’t have to do as much remodeling as would have been necessary in a place that had never been a restaurant.”
The community from city officials to residents has been helpful and welcoming, Hagos said, noting that The Red Sea is a family business where his wife works along side him as well as the children when they are not in school.
Although Red Sea Café has been open less than three months it’s already popular with locals, said Hagos, adding that he hopes people all over the metro Atlanta area who enjoy African food will learn about his restaurant. “It takes time for people to learn about any new restaurant. It’s the nature of the business,” he commented. “I’m confident that those who eat here will tell others how much they enjoyed it and our popularity will grow beyond Pine Lake.”
Hagos, who has lived in Georgia 36 years, owns other businesses in the area, but said The Red Sea is special for him. “It’s an opportunity to share my original country with my new country,” he said.