Egyptian Pizza? Why Egyptian Pizza? Isn't pizza Italian? Then it's fanciful, this name Egyptian Pizza, like Copenhagen couscous, or Singapore moose stew. A jest, to set a tone. Packed knee to knee, shoulder to shoulder, the crowds at Egyptian Pizza in Belvedere Square are living proof, Egyptian Pizza has something people want, which seems to be fanciful pizzas.
RTC The menu reels off a mind-boggling profusion of them. We counted the kinds: 30 pizzas! Making the note "No Substitutions PLEASE" provocative. Couldn't I pretty please have the Vest Site pizza (Vest Site? Whazzat?) that has "whole baby clams, mozzarella cheese, Italian tomatoes, fresh parsley, garlic & dill" with feta instead? Puhlease? I can't? Ah shucks.
California means vegetables all over the wood-burning-oven-baked bread, Taba pizza sports squid, Mexico has taco spices over ground beef and tomatoes, and Fells Point features, guess what, crab. Prices range from $5.95, for tomatoes, cheese and basil, to $7.95, for such glories as a Sharm El-Sheq, made of salmon, boursin, green onions, salmon caviar and lemon wedges. So for $14 you can buy two pizzas, the cheapest and the most expensive. You bring your own wine, and dinner is served, no fuss, no mess.
Are they good, these pizzas? Sure they're good. Four of us tried two of them. While we couldn't help noticing that the pignolata pizza ($6.75) wasn't strong on pine nuts, the homemade sausage, broccoli, garlic, mozzarella cheese and Italian tomatoes weighed a fair amount, and who orders pizzas mostly to eat pine nuts anyway? Strictly speaking, everything the menu promised was there on a pizza dough crustier and breadier than the old, familiar, gooey, melty Italo-American kind, and delicious.
We also ordered a giza pizza ($7.95). Silly to say -- "giza pizza." Flank steak (marinated? hmm, no taste of a marinade), fresh dill and parsley (we liked the sound of the herbs, but somebody forgot them), black olives (uninteresting), roasted red bell peppers (yep), feta (yep) and mozzarella (that look of melted stuff, definitely), with cumin sauce (cold canned tomatoes with some cumin powdered over them). We nearly finished both of the pizzas.
Probably, if we hadn't ordered so much else, we would have polished them off, but having started with some of the Egyptian offerings, and then, having been compelled by professional responsibility to sample appetizers, a salad, a platter and a pasta, we flagged. Pizzas are what Egyptian Pizza's all about, though.
The Middle Eastern combination platter ($6.95) sounded sumptuous: falafel, grape leaves, hummus, foul, babaganush, tahina, Mediterranean salad, feta and pita bread. The problem was, none of it was quite what it should have been -- or, at any rate, what it is at its best. The falafel was greener than any falafel any of us had ever seen, and bitter. The grape leaves were dry. The hummus, the foul, the babaganush and the tahina were every one of them bitter as well. All lacked the creamy warmth and garlicky passion well-made Middle Eastern food delivers. Even the accompanying salad of cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and peppers was thin on zest.
We tried a Greek salad ($5.95). It had very fresh vegetables: romaine, tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and green peppers, together with olives and feta. However, the dressing was all vinegar, no oil.
A platter of kefta kebabs was described as consisting of "chopped sirloin steak with parsley, onions and spices." The reality was a couple of bland but meaty hamburgers, served over rice, with some of the Mediterranean salad to the side. Telmare ($7.95) pasta, or "shrimp, scallops, roasted red bell peppers, red onions and basil in a light fresh mint seafood sauce" wasn't what it said it was. The light mint sauce was nowhere in sight. Instead, too much conventional tomato sauce made the dish banal.
Desserts from Patisserie Poupon came as a surprise. All three were among the best features of the meal. White chocolate mousse cake ($3.25) was more a matter of textures than flavors, but that's in the nature of white chocolate. Chocolate raspberry cake ($3.25) had a lively berry jam middle. A praline cake ($2.95) was satisfyingly filbert and almond.
Physically, Egyptian Pizza looked clean, lively and welcoming. Tables were small. There was visual spark in the bright red cushions and the lemon-yellow walls. Dress was super-casual. The wait staff was cheerful and hard-working. No one hurried anyone along. People talked and/or stared, some directly, some covertly, using the banks of mirrors down the sides of the room for assistance. Inexpensive amusement. *
Egyptian Pizza, 542 E. Belvedere Ave., 323-7060
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, until midnight Fridays and Saturdays
Accepts: /- *
No-smoking area: No smoking throughout
Wheelchair access: Yes