Pita bread champ of the menu

Eats

July 27, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sarah's Cafe is now the Egyptian Cafe, but the menu hasn't changed. It still says "Sarah's Cafe on the cover, and that naturally causes some confusion among patrons. It also says "under new management." Having never been to Sarah's, we can't say if that's an improvement or not, but the management does seem very new to the restaurant business - even to a simple pizza parlor-type establishment such as this one.

Despite the restaurant's centerpiece, a big, brick-covered pizza oven, selections other than pizza load the menu. Appetizers, salads, Middle Eastern specialties, sandwiches, pasta and calzones appear, in addition to the 30 or so different kinds of pizza.

All of the appetizers fall in the Middle Eastern category. Offerings range from hummus to foul, a tasty combination of fava beans, tahini and seasonings served on pita bread.

For starters, we chose Mideastern scampi, baba ghannouj - baked eggplant spread - and a Middle Eastern combination platter. All the appetizers arrived after our entrees, and the disappointment continued when we tasted the scampi, which the menu described as shrimp sauteed "Middle Eastern style" in olive oil, cumin and garlic. The shrimp arrived tough, and the oddly creamy sauce had more black olives in it than garlic and didn't have much flavor.

The combination platter and the baba ghannouj were better bets, although none of the platter's selections - falafel, hummus and more baba ghannouj - had the resonant flavors we associate with those classic Middle Eastern dishes. A pair of stuffed grape leaves piqued our interest; their rice filling was unusually and pleasantly seasoned. However, the only standout was the fresh pita bread that comes with everything and is whisked right from the pizza oven.

For entrees, we selected an Indian pizza, mixed chicken and lamb schwarma and kofta kabob.

The pizza was supposed to come with shrimp. Ours had tandoori chicken instead, with curry, yellow squash and mozzarella cheese. The crust, a cousin to the pita bread, tasted delicious, and the mozzarella was fine. The rest of the ingredients were just OK. For instance, the yellow squash had been placed raw on the pizza and cooked in the oven. Steamed or sauteed squash would have tasted better.

The schwarma consisted of strips of chicken and lamb marinated in herbs and sauteed in a "tangy Egyptian sauce." Onions, peppers, mushrooms, tahini sauce and pita bread came with the dish. Though the sauce was not particularly tangy, our dish had a good mix of flavors and plenty of the vegetables.

A Middle Eastern standard, kofta kabob is made of seasoned ground beef mixed with herbs and onions, shaped into loose sausages, grilled and served with vegetables and rice. Although the portion was plentiful, the meat was on the tough side.

We don't see the Egyptian Cafe as a destination restaurant for those who live outside the neighborhood.

In addition to the late appetizers, service was slow and a bit bumbling.

For residents of the area, the restaurant could serve as a decent place to visit or as a takeout spot. No doubt repeated visits will ferret out the best dishes.

Egyptian Cafe

1019 Light St.

410-752-2378

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa

Prices: Appetizers $4.50 - 8.95; entrees $8.95 - 14.95

Food: **

Service: **

Atmosphere: **

Rating system: Outstanding, ****; Good, ***; Fair or uneven, **; Poor, *

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