Lunch for $10 or Less: Egyptian Pizza

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.

YOUR TURN: Have you been to Egyptian Pizza? Write your own review.

Egyptian Pizza

Where: 542 E. Belvedere Ave.

Contact: 410-323-7060

Lunch hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Lunch entrees: $6.95-$18.95

Food: ✭✭✭

Service: ✭✭1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭1/2

[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]