Does this look like an Egyptian restaurant to you?
Not to me. And not to my food-questing companion Jared, whom I wanted to impress with the random magic of a taxi adventure.
Still, I walked into Empire Pizza II grasping at hope. In New York City, a lot of restaurants put what they think will sell at the front of the menu and reserve the food they really know how to cook for the back page.
In other words, it was totally possible that Empire Pizza II was hiding some good Egyptian flavor behind the rococo slices of pizza in the display case.
Our cab driver Mabudawy – who was born in Cairo, started driving a taxi 10 years ago and is “very happy” that “things will never be the same” in Egypt – had led us to believe this scenario might be possible.
When he isn’t eating lunch at home or bagels at Bagel Boy in Bay Ridge, the cabbie told Jared he liked the Egyptian buffet at the Village Restaurant on E. 2nd St. and First Ave.
We beelined it to the East Village after taking one look at Everyday Gourmet Deli on 41st and Lex, where Mabudawy originally dropped us off, explaining that he liked the sandwiches and was grateful for easy access to the bathroom.
“I guess it’s been a while since [the cabbie] has been here,” Jared said, when the man behind the counter at Empire Pizza II told us that new owners had taken over Village Restaurant – and that the once Egyptian buffet was now “Spanish, American, Italian and Egyptian.”
Everything – beef and white beans and rice and vegetable medley – tasted as over-salted and unremarkable as I expected it would. I tried to summon up some enthusiasm for a slice of pizza or a garlic knot – the place was crowded, we’d had to fight for a seat, what was everyone eating? – but I couldn’t.
Jared suggested we head up 1st Ave to Wechsler’s curry wurst parlor instead, where he introduced me to the glories of Köstritzer, a dark East German beer that I loved even more after I learned it was Goethe’s favorite beverage.
One Köstritzer and a basket of fries with mayonnaise and curry sauce (so much better than ketchup – trust me) was almost enough to erase my disappointment over our unremarkable adventure. And it was more than enough to whet my appetite for all the wurst to come in Berlin.
In April, I’m going to restart the food quests in Germany, and Jared is going to keep the taxi adventures going in the endless buffet that is New York City. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, if you want to taste a little Berlin in the Big Apple, here are the coordinates:
Wechsler’s – Map it
120 1st Ave at E. 7th St. – East Village
Tel (212) 228-1170
Open: Mon-Fri 12pm-1 am; Sat-Sun 12pm-2 am
Recommended: Curry wurst, fries and Koestritzer beer. Jared also likes Thuringer bratwurst and lamb sausage.