Smelling Salt Water


What cuisine makes the most lavish use of olive oil? we pondered as we dipped pita after pita into the oleaginous lake left over from shrimp scampi ($14.95). The crustaceans themselves were still a bright memory in our minds, eight jumbo beauties perfectly split and cleaned, lightly breaded, and sautéed for the merest few seconds before being tossed onto the marvelously firm linguine.

What kind of place, you wonder, serves pitas and pastas simultaneously? Just across the street from the ornate Al Imam mosque, in a neighborhood where hookahs are as common as parking meters, and roughly the same size, Sabry’s is a Steinway Street Egyptian café specializing in seafood. Unlike the Egyptian fish market-cum-fish fry stores of Sunset Park, Sabry’s takes its cue from the Astorian Greeks. The sea bass, porgy, snappers, and mullets lie resplendent on a bed of ice as you enter a room decorated with Middle Eastern tile and stone motifs. Open French doors catch breezes from the street, making you feel like the seaside is just around the corner. You can almost smell the salt water.

In the open kitchen that runs along one side of the dining room, fish can be done three ways: grilled, deep-fried, or oven-roasted, the latter clearly a favorite of the chef. The urbane waiter, who holds a white towel over his arm like European waiters of long ago, prefers roasting too. This is a particularly good idea when it comes to the porgy and sea bass ($14.95 and $18.95, respectively). The fish are rubbed with spices and their cavities filled with a puree of garlic, herbs, and lemon, which radiates flavors throughout the flesh. The stuck-up sardines, who refuse to party on ice with the other fish, are available nonetheless, arriving crusty with cumin and dotted with slices of lemon. At seven for $10.95, they make a good shareable entrée, especially if you like the slightly skanky flavor of good sardines.

Sagely, Sabry’s sticks with seafood. Don’t expect the usual range of Middle Eastern meze like tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, or foul—only one appetizer is regularly available. Three rounds of fried eggplant ($2.25) come gobbed with garlic-saturated tomato sauce, a starter so good we ordered it every time. You don’t really need a starter, though, since non-pasta entrées come with a choice of decent rice or limp fries, and all entrées are preceded by a pristine and abundant salad of romaine, cucumbers, and good tomatoes. The salad is dressed with a light vinaigrette, but the real payoff is the tahini that comes on the side as an auxiliary dressing. It’s been dilled, and it’s awesome.

When it comes to shellfish, Sabry’s abandons the Greeks, seeking inspiration instead in the southern Italian pasta palaces of northwestern Queens. Accordingly, the crustacean family is generally disposed of by plopping it in marinara and dumping it over linguine. Clams, mussels, and shrimp are treated individually this way, or you can splurge and get them all in the so-called “fruit de Marie” ($14.95). A cup of sugary tea, which comes with separate saucers of clove and dried mint, is the perfect dessert, but if you crave something sweeter, sashay down Steinway through cloying clouds of perfumed smoke to Laziza Sweets (25–28 Steinway Street, 718-777-7676), where the ripe profusion of Egyptian pastries—featuring dates, pistachios, and mountains of flaky filo—will sweep you off your feet.