You guys asked for it, so here it is. Tonight, I visited Cairo Grille (2410 NW 43rd Street) and had a lovely experience. Located in the former Tasty Buddha and Cabana Cove building, the restaurant was started when Chef Ali (also the owner) relocated from Chicago to Gainesville. The sparsely decorated space has remained mostly unchanged from its previous two incarnations, with the exception of a fresh coat of paint. But the food is much different than the hipster fried rice of Tasty Buddha, I’m also happy to report that a smiling employee is much easier to come by.
First, let me say this; Cairo Grille is what the kids would call “mad cheap yo”. Not cheap as in quality, but the prices are extremely affordable. My massive meal consisting of two appetizers, a big combo platter (with more pita than I could eat), and a drink came out to just under $20. My dining partner for the evening was able to order a similar platter, appetizer, and drink for $15. Most of you will end up spending under $10 for your meal there, unless you’re an abnormally fat Asian trying to sample the entire menu.
Speaking of the menu, it’s small, simple, and doesn’t hold any surprises; six appetizers, three salads, eight entrees, and a couple desserts. I went with the Fried Eggplant ($3.95 – fried eggplant seasoned with garlic, a bit of vinegar, and served with pita bread), which was pretty underwhelming. I was expecting deep fried chunks of eggplant, not pan fried sogginess. But my other appetizer choice of Hummus ($2.95 small/$3.95 large - fresh homemade hummus with pita chips) was much better. The small size is more than enough for two people to share, and it’s some of the best hummus I’ve had in town. Same goes for the Baba Ghannoug ($3.95 – chairbroiled eggplant and onions mashed and blended with tahini, garlic, and olive oil). It was fresh and delicious.
For an entrée, I decided to try the Kabob Combination Plate ($9.95) which comes with Shish Kabob, Chicken Kabob, Kefta Kabob, rice, lettuce, tomato, and pita. It was a huge platter of food that could easily feed two people. While I found the Kefta Kabob to be under-seasoned, the Chicken and Shish Kabobs were well cooked and delicious. None of the meats were exactly complicated, but simplicity is a lost art, and they tasted great. I was also able to sample items off the Vegetarian Combination Plate ($7.95), which comes with falafel, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, rice, pita, and an Egyptian Salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber in olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley). The stuffed grape leaves were great and homemade unlike those found at Falafel King. But that falafel…
...That falafel is delicious. Chef Ali has his own recipe for this dish, and it’s much better than the falafel I’ve had at both Gyros Plus and Falafel King. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed it anywhere in town since Farah’s On The Avenue closed down. Ground fava beans and chick peas deep fried to a gold brown crispy outside and warm soft inside never tasted so good. This is a winner.
To finish off my already gigantic meal, I went for their Date Balls (*snickers*) dessert ($2.95 for three). These smashed balls of dates covered in crushed peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, and coconut were actually based upon a recipe found in hieroglyphics on the Pyramids. They’re soft, almost nougat-like goodness that reminded me a bit of Turkish Delight. The Egyptians knew how to eat dessert; I’ll leave it at that.
While the restaurant has only been open for two weeks, Chef Ali is doing just fine. Tonight, he went from table to table gauging his guests’ satisfaction and asking for feedback (something that other recent restaurants should learn to do). There is no alcohol here, not even beer, which is a shame because of the beautiful patio. They’re also only open until 9 PM Monday through Saturday and 8 PM on Sunday. It’s easy to miss from the road (behind Garden Gate Nursery), and the place feels more like a Jimmy Buffett gathering in the clouds than a Middle Eastern restaurant. But the food is solid, the prices are on point, and I get the feeling it’ll only get better from here. As the employee shirts read, “Eat Like An Egyptian.” It’s pretty darn tasty.