Lunch for $10 or Less: Egyptian Pizza
Belvedere Square eatery is an unlikely mix of pizzeria and Middle Eastern restaurant
By John Lindner, Special to The Baltimore Sun
Published on September 17, 2011
Photo: The Giza offers one of more than 30 topping combos on an extensive pizza and
Middle Eastern menu offered by Egyptian Pizza, at 542 E. Belvedere Ave.
The Giza combines lamb, tomatoes, feta, mozzarella, black olives, parsley and a
hint of bell pepper to turn out a satisfyingly savory flavor spectrum.
The name alone, Egyptian Pizza, might conjure up any number of curious images, or shut down imagining altogether as you try to get a grip on the juxtaposition. Wait till you see the dining room.
The Belvedere Square pizzeria-cum-Middle-Eastern-restaurant at 542 E. Belvedere Ave. presents diners with a striking interior that's part obvious to the point of parody and part mysteriously jarring.
But don't let that get between you and Egyptian's Giza pie.
The lighting's a few watts too low. The music track is limp easy listening: think Seals and Croft on Valium. And the space was otherwise so quiet on this visit that any talk felt akin to an outburst in a library.
Wall decorations made to look like faux Egyptian ruins suggest low-budget high school stagecraft with unconvincing "stone" columns framing an open kitchen that exposes stacks of non-Egyptian cardboard pizza boxes and monster stock pots dangling from metal racks.
A line of mirrors runs the length of opposing walls. The effect is, of course, recurring reflections of the dining room stretching to a vanishing point somewhere toward a far horizon. But what's the point? A symbol of the trackless Egyptian desert? A mirage?
All of which is not to level cheap criticism. Think rather that you are called to check this out and just see if you aren't amazed.
One more thing in the low-budget motif: I bent my fork while pinning down a point of pizza before it cooled enough to handle. The bright side: it was no trick to unbend it.
OK, the dish: The Giza (10-inch, $9.95) is one of more than 30 topping combos on Egyptian's menu. Giza's main attraction, lamb, convinces you that any decently prepared ingredient will work on a pizza. In fact, in this case, the meat, generously mounded, made the Giza seem like an open-face sandwich.
But it's not like Egyptian just tosses your choice of meat on a round of cheesy crust. Supporting ingredients (black olives, chunks of tomato, feta and mozzarella, Italian parsley and a deft hint of bell pepper) argued persuasively that this dish belongs in the pizza family.
The crust brought its own goodness to the table with a nice balance of bread, salt and oil. In all, the Giza runs across the savory spectrum … but not quite to the kitchen's satisfaction. It adds a tomato-based side sauce laced with cumin and onion. Unnecessary, but good.
I like this place. Sure, there will be days when I can't psych up for anything more than a carryout trip. The staff during this visit were certainly present but not outgoing or forthcoming: adequately attentive order takers and beverage refillers. But then consider the surroundings. And the pizza order arrived in under 10 minutes.
Sphinx-like, Egyptian Pizza presents curiosity and mystery. But the Giza was good. If the rest of the 30-plus pizzas on Egyptian's extensive menu measure up, then here is another wonder of the restaurant world.
Where: 542 E. Belvedere Ave.
Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Lunch entrees: $6.95-$18.95
gentrifying Belvedere Square is becoming an important destination for
A year ago, the vastly improved Belvedere Square Market opened, with vendors
selling smoked meats, sushi and fresh soups. The shopping center across
from the Senator Theatre on York Road now boasts the Grand Cru wine bar
and an Irish pub called Ryan's Daughter, as well as other chic stores.
Egyptian Pizza, which has been in the square since 1990, is one of the
few survivors from the square's less upscale days. More than a pizza parlor
and slightly less than a full-scale restaurant, it is nice enough to stand
with the new high-end tenants.
Tables and chairs are black, the service is sit-down, and whimsical touches
like a massive fake lotus flower and faux hieroglyphics along one wall
add charm. Diners can bring their own wine.
The kitchen, where a brick oven cooks the pitas and pizzas, is visible
beyond the counter. A metal island shakes wildly as chefs work away (and
Meanwhile, they're churning out dozens of variations of street fare from
the Middle East and Italy, ranging from falafel, shawarma and shish kebab
to pizza and pasta. And let's not forget the scampi, Greek salad, leek
pasta and eggplant fries.
It's hard to believe such a small kitchen can deliver such an extensive
menu and prepare everything quickly and to order, but Egyptian Pizza makes
it look easy.
A spinach pie appetizer is clearly homemade and emerges warm from the
brick oven. The calzone-like exterior holds carefully chosen leaves of
barely wilted spinach, cubes of feta, slivers of onion and lots of garlic.
The Middle Eastern combination platter, a steal at $9.95, overflows with
treasures. Crispy, delicious falafel balls have tender green interiors
and the generous dollops of creamy hummus, foul and baba gannouj tastes,
respectively, of the chick peas, fava beans and roasted eggplant from
whence they came, only better. Also on the platter, but not quite as good,
are large grape-leaf cylinders stuffed with an uninteresting flavored
rice, and a feta-flecked salad that has seen better days. The whole thing
arrives with a basket of warm pita.
The thin-crusted pizzas, made with a pita-like dough, are topped with
everything from smoked salmon and boursin cheese to chicken, pineapple
and pignolis. We chose the Sunset Boulevard, with curried lamb and mozzarella.
It almost worked, except for the improbable strips of puff pastry strewn
across the top. It arrives with a small plastic cup of pineapple salsa
that is tasty but unnecessary, and is topped with warm, wilted mushrooms,
tomatoes and onions.
Certain items appear again and again. The shawarma is a mix of tender
chicken and lamb strips with the same mushroom veggie combo. It is served
over rice with the same seen-better-days salad. The salad and rice are
also paired with the fish kebab, which features a piece of salmon that
is beautifully charred on the outside and still moist and flaky within.
Dessert choices are similarly far-ranging and include several cheesecakes
and a white chocolate mousse cake. We chose the only two made in-house,
the baklava and the rice pudding. The baklava, served warm, was sweet,
flaky and generously studded with pistachios and almonds. The rice pudding
was a touch gluey in texture and bland for my taste.
If you're thinking all this reminds you of the Al Pacino Cafe in Baltimore,
the Nile Cafe of Owings Mills or Egyptian Pizza in Fells Point, that's
because owner Mohamed Mahmoud started those restaurants and then sold
them. Belvedere Square is now his only location, but he's opening an Egyptian
Pizza in Wilmington, Del., he said. I imagine it will be just as successful
there as it is here.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.,
Extras: Cuisine Eclectic, Mediterranean & Middle Eastern, Pizzeria
Entree Prices: $12 - $18, $6 - $11
Payment Method: All Major Credit Cards