"Cairo-inspired hooka bar, late-night dining and belly dancing at The Egyptian
If you want to observe Egyptian life as it’s been happening every day for over 230 years, the El-Fishawy café in Old Cairo’s Khan El-Khalili district is apparently the place to go. Known for its eclectic, bazaar-like décor, mirrored walls and mint tea, it served as a frequent setting for a trilogy of novels written by Nobel Prize-wining author Naguib Mahfouz. Fuul, a chunky fava bean dip, and taameya (falafel) are the snacks of choice. Or you can inhale your sustenance from an ornate, coal-burning water pipe sending up wisps of aromatic smoke.
While they don’t serve mint tea — at least not yet — and the furnishings are decidedly more tidy and restrained, The Egyptian, a new café and hooka bar in the heart of Broad Ripple, aspires to provide a similarly cozy backdrop for nibbling and people watching. Stone floors, Moravian star lights and mosaic tile wall hangings help to set the scene, as do sturdy tables with low-backed benches for lounging, all imported directly from Cairo. Occasional floor shows by belly dancers and hookas with tobacco flavors running from jasmine to “double apple” add to the café’s considerable ambience. With weeknight hours to 2 a.m. and weekend evenings lasting almost until dawn, The Egyptian is a great alternative to all the beer guzzling on Broad Ripple’s main drag.
Though it’s clear a lot of effort went into creating an authentic atmosphere, the eatery’s position within the Indianapolis dining scene is a little more dubious. Typically, restaurants “in the style of” a country’s cuisine precede the more honest-to-goodness stuff, which a city’s diners come to appreciate over time. But Indy already has two Egyptian restaurants that have been schooling diners on the differences between Egyptian food and the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean for some time. Little here seems to point directly to the land of the pyramids and the Nile.
Indeed, the menu at The Egyptian leans more toward pan-Middle Eastern fare, with dishes like souvlaki and spanakopita, more common at Greek eateries. American dishes such as burgers and cheese steaks have been added “to ensure everyone has their own enjoyable experience.” “Fusion” dishes include Egyptian fries and shawarma on a Kaiser roll. Despite these idiosyncrasies, the kitchen takes pains to make what it can from scratch, and this attention comes through in several of the house specialties. Attention from our quite friendly waitress bordered on intrusive; she checked on us almost every five minutes and later regaled us with tales of college mischief.
A good variety of appetizers, salads and sandwiches make for casual coffeehouse munching. Hummus came nicely seasoned with plenty of tahini and little of the caustic garlic burn of too many versions. Sizeable tiropita ($4.75), cheese pies, came filled with a tangy mix of cheeses and a side of cooling tzatziki sauce. The tabouli salad included with dinners was a little less successful. With only intermittent kernels of bulgur wheat, it was a little grainy, and out-of-season tomatoes didn’t help. A Greek salad ($6.50), on the other hand, was a mammoth mix of veggies tossed in a sweet, not astringent, vinaigrette. Stuffed grape leaves, however, came with a rather unappetizing interior of cold, congealed rice.
Much heartier meals can be had here as well. Butter chicken ($12.50), which our waitress said took more time but which actually arrived first, was the most flavorful dish of the evening, spicy and rich in a sauce with plenty of crunchy cashews. A mound of fragrant rice — “It tastes like carrot cake,” a fellow diner exclaimed — accompanied. A mixed grill combo ($14.95) included somewhat modest kabobs — though lamb was perhaps the best, juicy and nicely grilled. Chicken was slightly to the dry side, though tasty. A ground beef and lamb kofta kabob was woefully underseasoned. Falafel, which we added as a side, lacked the crunch and lightness of the best. Tender beef shawarama ($6.50) — we’d ordered chicken — came tossed with a nice spice blend and plenty of sweet onions.
Rice pudding and chocolate cake are the only desserts currently made in house, though the waitress raved about the baklava they bring in. The rice pudding ($3.50), served cold, was refreshingly sweet and creamy without being too heavy or viscous. Despite the hooka a neighboring patron puffed on, the place wasn’t especially smoky. The lack of more authentic dishes aside, The Egyptian does provide a relaxed setting — and a much-needed late-night option — for observing the local color.
6265 Carrollton Ave.
Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Food: Three stars
Atmosphere: Three and a half stars
Service: Three stars
Recommended dishes: Hummus, butter chicken, rice pudding