Egyptian pyramids and pizzas may seem like an odd duo, but brothers Ahmed and Ashraf Abobaker and their partner, Haime Shapero, have combined the two at their newest restaurant, Cafe Isis in Timonium.
Mediterranean pizza is a specialty at all their restaurants: Cafe Isis, which opened last September, and the Al Pacino cafes on Cathedral Street and in Pikesville.
Soon, all three restaurants will share the Cafe Isis name, but not the Egyptian-temple decor of the Timonium location. The expansive space in the Round Woods Shopping Center looks like a backdrop for Cleopatra, with distressed honey-colored blocks scaling the walls, and a border of faded hieroglyphics. Paintings of kohl-eyed women, kneeling and carrying golden cups, may depict Isis herself, the Egyptian goddess of fertility.
Isis certainly has inspired abundance in the category of Mediterranean pizza here. From curried shrimp to taco beef, there are almost three dozen varieties, cooked in the beehive-shaped wood-burning oven that's open to view. The pizza is made on what is essentially a large pita bread crust. If you're a fan of thick, chewy crusts, you may not appreciate the fact that this crust is soft and thin, speckled underneath with toasty patches of brown.
We avoided the more unusual pizza selections and chose the Osiris, with roasted eggplant and red peppers, button mushrooms, pesto, mozzarella and feta. It was a little on the bland side. We wondered why the wood-fired oven hadn't added more flavor.
We also expected more wood-roasted flavor from the lamb kebab casserole, one of Cafe Isis' Middle Eastern specialties. The big cubes of lamb were tender, though, served on basmati rice with nutty tahini sauce, slivered almonds and roasted onions, mushrooms and green peppers. A fresh salad of chopped romaine, carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables was tucked into the oval casserole as well.
Pasta is not a good choice here, if the tandoori chicken fettuccine is any indication. The neon pink sauce tasted bland, like Alfredo without the cheese. The menu promised curry, walnuts, garlic and tandoori spices, but the sauce delivered none that we could detect.
Not everything was as disappointing. The barbecued chicken sandwich was one of the best I've ever had -- a Mediterranean re-creation of an American classic, and a bargain at $5.95 to boot. Tender chicken breast fillets, topped with a judicious amount of sweet barbecue sauce and red onions, filled two halves of a giant pita shell. Crisp-coated curly fries and the house chopped salad were served alongside.
For appetizers, skip the Middle Eastern scampi with three shrimp and three scallops in a cumin and lemon sauce, and split the combination platter with friends. It has a little of everything: sesame-capped falafel patties, rice-stuffed grape leaves and chopped salad, along with airy, lemon-spiked hummus, a pink puree of fava beans, and the most flavorful eggplant baba ghannouj in memory.
Service was at first vigilant, less so later on. Our waiter did ask the kitchen to make Turkish coffee especially for us. The robust brew went well with a pyramid of simple chocolate cake and butter cream, a square of Middle Eastern custard topped with curly wheat pastry, and our favorite, a syrup-soaked cornmeal cake called komasa.
12240 Tullamore Road, Timonium
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa
Prices: Appetizers, $2-$7.95; entrees, $4.95-$14.95. No liquor license; bring your own beer or wine.
Pub Date: 2/05/98