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by Dani Vanderboegh

Cleopatra’s offers authentic Egyptian experience

ell3dani@gmail.com

If variety is the spice of life, and you’re into that sort of thing, Cleopatra’s is a restaurant for you, and they’ll throw in some imported Egyptian spices to top it off.

After I wandered into the restaurant, server Brandon Sampson “” Sampson for short “” sat me at a table and helped me figure out the menu. After I ordered, I couldn’t help but take in the ambiance.

There’s a bar with an American pastime playing on a big screen behind it, little Egyptian knickknacks scattered all around, as well as Egyptian music playing softly in the background. It’s the perfect blend of American and Egyptian cultures, which is exactly what owner Yasser Abdel-Aziz was going for when he opened this restaurant in December 2011.

When the Egyptian revolution happened that year, Abdel-Aziz wasn’t able to travel back to his home country because his life was here. He was an engineer “” still consultant today “” who had been told repeatedly that he was a good cook and he should start a restaurant. Knowing of the unrest in Egypt, he felt a longing to bring a bit of his old country to his new one to blend the cultures. Cleopatra’s was born.

Even the name Cleopatra’s was chosen to represent a merging of the cultures. Abdel-Aziz said Cleopatra was sort of the last real pharaoh, and it was during her reign that the Roman Empire ingratiated themselves in Egypt and vice versa. From there, the two cultures blended, much like Abdel-Aziz’s goal to blend his worlds.

“That’s a kind of mixing of cultures, which is one of the goals of this restaurant “” to mix the cultures,” Abdel-Aziz said. “To bring people around some good food “¦ to talk about politics, to talk about history, to talk about music, to talk about art.”

Then my appetizer arrived. It was a trio of Mansoura Dip, Hummus and Fried Eggplant. Mansoura dip is a refreshing blend of strained yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber, vinegar and garlic. The hummus is a chickpea puree mixed with tahini, garlic and lemon juice, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and served with a cucumber. The fried eggplant is served with garlic and vinegar then topped with parsley. The trio is served with pita bread. You can get any combination of the appetizers either alone, paired or served as a trio.

Similarly, you get side options with the entrees, which allows for many possibilities. My first attempt, with the guidance of Sampson, was Lamb Beef Shawerma with Bamya and Gollash Belgebna.

Lamb Beef Shawerma is tender, stacked up slices of beef and lamb that are slowly broiled and cooked on a vertical rotating skewer before being shaved off for serving. This is after the meat has marinated in onion, garlic and other spices that Abdel-Aziz said are a secret, but assures me some are imported from Egypt. He said it’s usually served as a sandwich on pita bread with lettuce, tomato, tahini sauce, but they serve it as a lone meat for dinner because sandwiches aren’t necessarily thought of as a dinner food.

Bamya is okra cooked in tomato sauce with beef broth.

Gollash Belgebna is flaky filo dough baked with spinach and feta cheese. The entire meal was amazing, but I fell in love with the Gollash Belgenbna.

Abdel-Aziz said the Lamb Beef Shawerma, Falafel and the Al-Azhar Mix Grill, with chicken kabab, kofta kabab, lamb chop plus three sides are the most popular items.

“People love it a lot because it’s very delicious but also because it gives them a chance to try different things at the same time, and the next time they come they can try it again or they can try the item they like the most,” Abdel-Aziz said.

But don’t forget the Tanta Baklawa. The flaky layers of filo dough baked with nuts, covered with pistachio, soaked in honey and garnished with more nuts on top, is the perfect way to finish off a meal full of variety and delicious flavors. !

WANNA go?

Visit Cleopatra’s at 1310 Westover Ter. #107, Greensboro, NC 27408 Open from: Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can also find them on Facebook or by downloading their app.

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