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AUGUST 1, 2008 5:15 PM

Lunchtime at the Selam Store
Homecooked North African cuisine served up with Eritrean hospitality.
It is probably rude to begin a post by issuing an emphatic command to readers, but allow me to be blunt: if you haven't been to the Selam Store, stop what you are doing and proceed immediately to the corner of Michigan and Grand lest you be deprived for a minute longer of the culinary and cultural adventures that await you there. Uncle Juan and Splinters have been raving about this place for months, but a busy summer had thwarted my best intentions to visit until yesterday lunch. I was a fool to wait! Indeed, I was so bowled over that I rounded up Noodles and Moles and went back for dinner less than five hours later!
Selam Store Plackard
Update that Rolodex: 654 Michigan Street. 616-242-9089.
You're going to want these numbers on file, because at $5.50 per person for a generously portioned vegan combo of traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean stews served on injera, it's almost cheaper to go out than to cook a meal at home. And the food is just incredible; we had shiro wat, yemiser wat, gomen, vegetable aleecha, and a white lentil and garlic stew, all of which were top notch. The injera is especially exceptional. According to a friend who has ties to the local Ethiopian community, the Selam Store is regarded statewide as the source of the best, most authentic injera available; apparently, people who are in the know come from all over Michigan to get it. That won't surprise you when you taste it.
Selam Store Interior
How do I love thee, Selam Store? Let me count the ways...
Delicious as it is, the food itself is just one of many exciting aspects of the Selam Store experience. It is a store, after all, where one may purchase a variety of dry goods from a quirky assortment including hand-woven Eritrean baskets (such as these), staple ingredients for North African cuisine, household items like toilet paper, detergent, and dishware, and a host of other unpredictables, such as boxes of cartoon-animal-emblazoned band-aids stacked with the candy and a towering display of off-brand cologne ("If you like Drakkar Noir, you'll love...").
Selam Store Lounging
A place that lives up to its name.
"Selam" means "peace" or "accord," as in what comes about when two people embrace one another with a heartfelt handshake. The store itself really embodies that spirit, from the placard hanging above the entrance to the family-style seating that makes it near to impossible to avoid befriending the other diners in your midst. Our evening meal opened into a stimulating hour-long conversation with three people we had never met before, all of whom we're now hoping to see again soon. Even when you have the place to yourself (as we did at lunch), the host and proprietor of the store--an older Eritrean gentleman--will win you over with his generous willingness to share recipes and answer questions about North African life and culture.
See you at the Selam Store!
Whether you can't find Eritrea on a map to save your life, or you're fluent in Tigrinya (one of the country's two official languages), you'll feel right at home at 654 Michigan Street. Hope to see you there!