Prince Of Egypt (135 Danforth, at Broadview, 416-463-2228. Complete meals for $15 per person ($7 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and an aniseed tea. Average main $10/$6. Open Monday to Wednesday 10:30 am to 9 pm, Thursday to Saturday 10:30 am to midnight, Sunday noon to 8 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
As a fan of the funky midget from Minneapolis and as a lover of the land of the pharaohs, I figure it's a given I'll fall head over heels for Prince of Egypt. You will too once you get past a space that would give even the wee Scottish poofters from TV's How Not To Decorate pause.
Dig, if you will, a modest east-side storefront (until recently Schillings, the Bavarian dessert café) made over in an unfortunate style best described as Medieval Knights on the Nile. The tables in the large, bright room are topped with plastic-laminated fabric festooned with hieroglyphics; trellises strung with drooping faux flora are suspended from the purple-painted acoustic ceiling.
Below, battle axes hang on white walls covered with styrofoam to resemble some rock-walled casbah. Rather unconvincingly, I have to add.
But any misgiving inspired by the Prince's taste in decor disappear with the first bite of his truly royal grub. I'm expecting falafel-shop fare when I order the battered cauliflower pita wrap ($3.25), but find instead delicious, deftly cooked-to-order al dente veggies mixed with red onion, tomato and cuke in a light creamy mayo.
Equally impressive, beef kebabs (tonight's dinner special) come flecked with parsley and coriander and smoky from the grill.
Roasted chicken legs get dusted with oregano before being doused with buttery oil, while the stuffed version arrive deboned and wrapped around a delightfully sour rice farci (all $10/$5.99 for a smaller takeout portion), the lot sided with a crunchy split pea stew studded with oven-roasted garlic and spuds.
Lamb shank ($13.95) is a lovely slow-cooked section of leg braised alongside carrot, onion and celery.
But why spring for all that when you can get a glorious vegetarian lentil soup spun with semolina threads for $1.99?
Starters are a good deal, too. Grape leaves come tastily stuffed with short-grain rice and tiny nubbins of lamb before being dipped in minty clotted yogurt. Foul, the fava bean breakfast purée popular throughout the Middle East, gets served as a first-rate dip alongside pita triangles.
Salads go several ways: designer greens in lemony vinaigrette alternately layered with the likes of roasted plum tomato and fennel (all $3.25) or chunky avocado ($3.99). But Salade Russe ($3.25) is just plain silly, a scoop of retro mashed potatoes blended with Miracle Whip, frozen veg and gherkins.
Wash them all down with the fabulously tart squeezed-to-order juices of fresh pomegranate or medicinal sorrel ($2.99).
Soothing bowls of comfort-food-style rice pudding and house-baked baklava (both $2.50) sipped with steaming glasses of aniseed tea ($1.25) make a commendable finish.
With nearly 50 years of experience in the hospitality biz, father and son team Taha and Adam Soliman know how to make the public feel welcome. Although they've only been up and running since New Year's, they've already ditched half the menu: goodbye tuna salad, hello roast rabbit and more vegetarian mains.
But whoever decided that sticking styrofoam to the walls of their otherwise charming restaurant was a good design decision deserves to have his or her glue gun confiscated.