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Cheap Eats; Egyptian cuisine adds to Buffalo's world of flavors

As it turns out, you can add Egyptian cuisine to the United Nations of food available in Buffalo. Venus, a small place in University Plaza, serves a plentiful roster of Lebanese and Egyptian dishes besides the usual chicken wings and fries.

My first inkling was the appearance of "Fava beans" ($4.29) in the terse menu's breakfast section. That led me to ask if it was "ful medames," the national dish of Egypt, usually stewed fava beans often flavored with garlic, lemon and olive oil. The woman behind the counter said it was. I didn't order it, however, as it was dinner time.

Another Egyptian staple the menu offers is "Koshrey" ($5.99), spelled "kushari" elsewhere, a dish of rice, brown lentils, chickpeas and browned spaghetti.

The place is set up as a quick-bite joint, with a few tables in front, then stools and an eating ledge in the back. I ordered at the counter and the staff brought our food to us. The plastic menus were sticky, which is a turn-off for me, but when the plates started arriving, I shrugged it off.

Whether it's best labeled Egyptian, Lebanese or pan-Arabic, Venus' cooking hits a spot I didn't know I had. I look forward to once more tucking into a plate of grilled, seasoned ground beef patties doused with garlic sauce over rice (Shish kofta platter, $9.99), while watching Arabic music videos. (Despite my complete lack of fluency, the videos, which played nonstop on a wall-mounted flat-screen, added flair to the room. They're like Bollywood musicals, except with more falconers on horseback.)

Besides the shish kofta, there were plenty of other dishes to occupy myself and a companion. A "Gyro pita dip" special ($6.49) was a plate of chopped standard gyro meatloaf strips, with chopped onions, tomatoes and tzatziki, Greek garlic yogurt sauce, all over the pita bread wedges. Nothing unusual, but warm, tasty and well-proportioned.

The falafel platter ($7.99) was six fava bean and chickpea patties, deep-fried and served with pickled cucumbers, pickled turnips, tahini sauce and pita bread. The falafel patties were warm and satisfying, a decent vegetarian dinner.

Like the shish tawook (seasoned ground beef), chicken shawarma (sliced seasoned chicken), shish tawook (chicken pieces) and shish kebab (beef pieces) are all available as a sandwich ($4.59) or a platter, with fries or rice and a salad ($8.99-$9.99).

We tried the chicken shawarma platter, too. It had pieces of seasoned chopped chicken over a bed of rice, crisscrossed with white garlic sauce. Some of the chicken was drier than I like, but we decided that it was a tasty plate overall.

We quite enjoyed the hummus with meat special ($6.99), which involved the slightly chunky, nutty hummus spread over a plate and topped with fried, crunchy bits of chicken and beef. Slivered almonds browned in the pan and olive oil joined them, for a zesty, garlicky flavor romp.

We pushed it onto pieces of pita and made sure the plate was clean. I liked it even better after carefully and sparingly dabbing Venus' homemade hot sauce onto my bites. Their brick-colored homemade heater sauce has a load of chili flavor followed by a wave of heat that left sweat on my brow. It might best be applied with an eyedropper.


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