An Egyptian, a Jordanian and a Turk walk into a restaurant ...
Sounds like the start of a Thanksgiving Day joke from your racist uncle, but it's really the start of the show — the Dough Show, to be exact. I've seen it four times, and each time I've binged this UCF-area eatery, it leaves me wanting more.
It's all directed by Ehab Mahmoud, who's managed to elicit a mesmerizing performance from Alexandrian pastry maestro Ahmed Hamam. The man is the Egyptian equivalent of a pizzaiolo — not of pizza dough, mind you, but of feteer meshaltet, or feteer, as it's commonly known.
Hamam works, stretches and pounds the gossamer-thin dough before theatrically twirling the pastry disc around his head. And then, like all shows, this dough show must go on: It's slammed back onto the quartz counter, given a few open-handed slaps, then filled with toppings like house-brined and cured pastrami with Kiri cheese — the Middle East's answer to Laughing Cow. Hamam folds and crimps the pastry, inverts it, and places this so-called "Oriental" pie (hey, that's what it says on the menu) into a 600-degree oven for a few minutes until baked through. No matter the filling, be it mozzarella ($12.99), house-made sausage ($14.99), salami ($14.99) or mixed shawarma ($16.99), the result is magnificent.
That oven, BTW, is one of a kind in the country. "For sure, 100 percent no one has this kind of oven in the U.S.," Mahmoud says. The four-ton, bi-level, dual-entry cooking chamber was brought over from Egypt in one piece, and there are two others like it in storage for when the Dough Show inevitably takes its production to other neighborhood venues.
And about that shawarma: It's made from scratch and spends two days marinating before being skewered onto a vertical spit. In the case of the beef shawarma, it's topped with a hunk of lamb fat, allowing those gorgeous juices to flavor the glistening meat.
Thigh and breast make up the chicken shawarma, but I suggest you get the best of both whirly worlds in the mixed shawarma platter ($18.99) which comes with perfectly cooked rice and your choice of salad (tabbouleh, fattoush, metabble or the house salad). All are garden-fresh and all, as well as the rice, are overseen by Dough Show's Jordanian cook, Manal.
The Turk, Muheelddin, mans the spit, as well as Dough Show's charcoal-fired grill, over which a roster of kebabs is blazed. I've tried the chicken kofta ($17.99) and the lamb kebab ($18.99), and they really couldn't have been cooked any better. What I found lacking was the flavor in those grilled meats, both of which bordered on the bland. But a dip in a side of tahini made everything right again.
In more dip news, Egyptian hummus ($7.99) is a whole lot creamier than its Levantine counterparts. Mahmoud says acquiring that texture takes a lot of work, but the effort is well worth it. I quite enjoyed dipping their house-made falafel into the luscious spread.
Not surprisingly, their desserts are all homemade too. Spoonfuls of comfort are to be had with the om ali ($6.99), a puff-pastry bread pudding soaked in milk, pistachios, coconut milk and raisins, while the basbousa ($5.99), a semolina cake with nuts and honey, is ideal with a cup of Turkish tea or coffee — neither of which the Dough Show offers. A relatively easy fix, but my eyes return to those feteer pies when it comes to sweet cappers. Yes, sugary versions are offered as well, and I can attest to the scrumminess of both the banana-custard pie ($10.99) and the one stuffed with raisins, coconut and custard ($11.99) — an ender popular among sweet tooths along the Nile Delta.
Yet with all my visits here, I feel like there's still so much for me to try — the veg pies, the lamb chops, the roasted chicken, the rice pudding. What I'll gravitate toward, who's to say? Like the pies Hammam fashions, it's a toss-up.