It was my sister-in-law’s birthday last Saturday and, her husband being away on business, we decided to take her and her daughter out for dinner. My wife discovered an Internet write up for an Egyptian restaurant that sounded promising. We hadn’t been to a Middle Eastern eatery in a long while and the idea of relaxing with a hookah and watching belly dancers as we dined sounded great. So off we went to the Kafe Kairo.
Kafe Kairo doesn’t serve liquor ; so we stopped at the Rite-Aid Pharmacy in Highland Park for a bottle of wine. First time I’ve heard of a Pharmacy cum wineshop. I must admit that it was well stocked with wines and liquors ; the pharmacy business may not have been thriving but the liquor shop was doing a roaring business. We picked up a couple of bottles and pressed on to the restaurant.
The restaurant’s exterior was unprepossessing and when we went down a couple of steps and entered, it only got worse. A long narrow room with two rows of tables, one on each side. A curtained alcove to the left, in back, presumably leading to the storeroom. Another doorway to the right in the middle of the room leading to the kitchen. We nearly turned back and headed out but a) it was cold and windy outside b) we had no Plan B c) the people seated at the tables seemed to be having a good time and d) the smells from the kitchen were tantalizing . We decided to stick it out.
We started out with the meze sampler, our choice of 5 appetizers ( $ 14.95). We opted for the baba ghanouj, hummus, fava bean puree, Buffalo chicken wings and a mixed salad. There was also a basket of sliced pita bread to scoop up the dips. The salad with it’s sweetish dressing was excellent and the Buffalo wings ( there were 3 of them ) were good but the dips were lackluster. The portions were not large but after all appetizers are meant to whet your appetite while you wait for the main course. In that respect they were adequate.
Service at the Kafe Kairo is well meaning but slow and it was quite a wait before our entrees arrived. Howver, the Beringer merlot that we had brought was excellent and we were happy to wait. Two of the entrees came with soup included and both my wife and neice chose the lentil soup which turned out to be okay, nothing exceptional. I ordered an extra soup, Chicken Florentine, and it was good. A hearty flavorful broth with nuggets of chicken, chopped onions and tomatoes and , of course , shreds of spinach. If only it had been piping hot, instead of tepid.
My entee, fiteer , was described as Egyptian pizza and turned out to be the best of our choices. It consisted of grilled flatbreads mounded with a choice of toppings. I’d chosen onions, lamb and jalapenos and they made a good combination. The onions were souteed but still slightly firm and they went well with the slices of roast lamb and the sliced jalapenos. I’d have preffered fresh jalapenos rather than canned but these were still okay. Unfortunately that was the lone highlight among the entrees , the rest of which were disappointing. The falafel (served with pita and a salad) were leaden, the lamb kababs ordinary and as for the fava bean dish , the less said the better. For dessert we had the baklava and an interesting three milks cake. We had a good time at the Kafe Kairo but it was because of the company, not because of the food.
As we left we asked whether there was a separate room where the belly dancers performed. There was a separate room upstairs we were told, a lounge where patrons could smoke a hookah but the belly dancer (s ?) would be performing in the same narrow room where we had dined. Looking at it’s crowded confines, with barely room enough to swing a cat, we wondered how. Regardless, I don’t think we will be going back to the Kafe Kairo, belly dancers or not.
Kafe Kairo. 49, Bayard Street, New Brunswick, N.J 08901.