The day the Spartan closed, a little piece of my heart broke. Not because I was a devoted regular or because it was the capital-letter Best Restaurant in Town, but because of the little things that added up to a kind of greatness. The family that ran the place, homemade hash browns at breakfast, rice pudding that seemed like a shared family secret---those things made it feel more than a restaurant. It felt like a kind of home.
So I feel a little pang, not of remorse, but a misty sort of recollection, while I wait to cross the street and head up the familiar few stairs to Louly's, the Egyptian restaurant, now in the space since April.
We are greeted with a smile as we enter and given our choice of seats in the clean, bright space. We gaze past the dark-wood tables that have brought a more modern feel to the restaurant, and choose one of the old booths that run the length of the wall.
The menu is a small collection of Middle Eastern dishes with Mediterranean influences. We decide to share the baba ghanoug to start, but the Egyptian specialties that are unique to Louly's really pique our interest, so for our entrees I order the koshary and my friend decides on the shakshuka.
While we wait, our server drops by some tall glasses of water and cutlery. Soon after, a small plate of creamy, garlicky baba ghanoug arrives with a small stack of pita. We spend the next half hour slowly snacking on the tasty dip before our entrees arrive.
Both entrees seem made from family recipes, comforting in a "made by Mom" kind of way. The koshary is a mass of rice, noodles and lentils with fried onions scattered on top. Two tomato sauces and a simple lettuce and tomato salad fill out the plate. The noodles are slightly overcooked, but the rice is fluffy, the lentils tender but firm. The onions are slightly burned, but the char thankfully tastes quite good with the sauces, which are the real highlight. Alternately vinegary and spicy, combined they have a lovely tanginess and gentle heat that is absolutely delicious.
A casserole made of tomatoes, onions, chickpeas and eggs, the shakshuka is overwhelming. The huge slab has no less than five whole eggs. The chickpeas are slightly tough, and make the dish a bit lumpy. And while the bright, hard yolks are a rich counterpoint to the sweet tomatoes and onions, there are too many to eat. With a pile of thinly sliced fried potatoes and a salad on the side, it feels impossible to finish.
We pick away at our plates for what seems like an eternity, barely putting a dent in the two piles of food. Our server hasn't returned and we long ago ran out of water, so we look to call her over. When we ask for refills, we also move on to the dessert menu. I order rice pudding, with an Egyptian coffee. My friend gets the basima.
The Egyptian coffee is delicious alongside the creamy, cinnamon-topped rice pudding. The basima is also delicious, a honey-sweet cake of coconut and almonds. After another long stretch of chatting and slowly eating our desserts, our server comes over to nudge us---they're closing up. We've been here for more than two hours. We quickly wrap things up, pay the bill and head out. As the door starts to close behind us, a woman runs out to ask us if we want to wait while they wrap up the half of the basima we abandoned, like a mom stopping her kids before they forget their brown-bagged lunch.
Something about this makes the imperfections of the meal melt away into something more elemental, something that makes a house---or a restaurant---a home.