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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Uncle Sam's: American Fast Food in Maadi
Promising staple American dishes as Egypt’s first ‘truly American diner’ – located next to Drinkie’s and across from Metro Market on Mostafa Kamel Street in Maadi – Uncle Sam’s got our stomachs rumbling as we headed over to check it out.
Under the impression that there would be somewhere to sit and enjoy this authentic meal, seeing as it is a 'diner', it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that Uncle Sam’s is in fact a hole-in-the-wall. Clad in newspaper cut-outs, the outside of the shop also has a blackboard with a chalk-written menu hung to the side. Although unexpectedly a non-sitting, or even standing place, this slight hint of originality had us re-intrigued.
The menu available to us was not that varied; ultimately our choices were their gourmet burger (15.75LE), salt and vinegar chips (7.50LE), hot dog (12.50LE) and chicken strips – either on their own (11LE-16LE) or in a sandwich (15.75LE). .
Finding no place to eat while there, we were forced to ask it to be home delivered instead. Beware that they do not deliver anywhere in Maadi except for El Sarayat area.
Arriving about half an hour later, the food, to say the least, was not exactly what we expected. The salt and vinegar chips barely had any vinegar; they were more drenched in paprika and other spices. It turned out that this seasoning was a running theme throughout the other dishes. The chicken strip sandwich was soft and covered with cheese where the chicken was tender and well cooked, but the bread was dry and felt like it might have been reheated in a microwave.
The burger had too much pepper, and the meat itself was too dense and it lacked flavour. The hot dog was equally disappointing; the tough and chewy sausage might have been saved by the relish topping had it not been also over-spiced.
We also tried the mint lemonade (8LE), which was nothing more than lemonade with a few mint leaves floating in it. Needless to say, there was little mint flavour to it and it arrived warm. We also encountered a baffling answer when inquiring about desserts - which include Rice Krispy treats and candy apples - which was that any dessert orders have to be made a day before.
Although frustrated by the promise of a diner and the subsequent lack of seating, as well as the dessert issue, ultimately, it's the quality of the food that disappointed. The concept is a great one and we're keeping our fingers crossed that Uncle Sam's can iron out its kinks.
The restaurant certainly doesn’t look very Indian either. Owned by the Americana Group, this ‘casual dining brand’ has branches throughout Cairo, and is apparently ubiquitous in the Middle East as a whole.
Americana certainly seems to be the order of the day as far as the Viny Square branch’s décor is concerned. But despite being shiny and clean, the interior was poorly laid-out and felt cramped, with a group of waiters gathered uncomfortably round the counter.
These waiters far and away were the best thing about the restaurant. Attentive and helpful, they really deserve to be serving better food than the greasy, sub-par fare, dished out courtesy of their employers.
The platter consisted of four kobeba, twelve vine leaves, eight samosas filled with either cheese or mincemeat, all accompanied by dipping sauces: tehina and yoghurt. Given that all the above elements relied largely on oil rather than flavour, it was a little difficult to tell them apart. Save the vine leaves, which were drenched in mouth-stinging vinegar. The samosas’ pastry casings were fine, but the salty cheese filling oozed out of the samosa like silly putty. The mincemeat was similarly underwhelming; garnished with an ill-fitting selection of spices.
The two small pots which accompanied the platter apparently contained the dipping sauces. However, they were as sparse as they were ill-fitting. This may have been because the ‘tehina’ wasn’t actually tehina; just an anonymous oil-based sauce in which to dunk our oily comestibles.
We watched the lovely waiter with growing sympathy as he brought out the Tikka Mixed Grill (47.27LE); this was a plate containing a quarter chicken, five pieces of kebab and two pieces of kofta. On the side: oily ‘buri’ bread, bland mixed vegetables, a choice of basmati rice or fries, and tomeya sauce, which was identical to the alleged tehina.
Chicken Tikka claims to serve, ‘exclusively delicious recipes of meat, chicken, quail and farouge’. Accordingly, most of the meat was pleasingly moist and tasty. Apart from the kofta, which was rough and dry.
The menu does have some variation, offering a salad bar at 17LE a bowl and a children‘s menu (dishes roughly 20LE). Tea and soft drinks are both 6LE and there is a selection of juices; the guava juice (9LE) was made of fresh guavas. However, it failed to make up for how unsatisfied and unhealthy we felt upon leaving the restaurant, vowing to eat nothing but raw vegetables for a week.
The result of our philosophical musings? Chicken Tikka is a weird cultural hybrid; an anonymous American chain, failing to embrace or understand any of the elements that make up its hybridism. More importantly, the food is unsatisfying and it’s overpriced.
It’s always pleasing to see new concept restaurants in Cairo.
Ask to add tomatoes to the chicken strip sandwich, it would help make it juicier.