Chap’s Grille is a place you can easily walk by and never walk into. Tucked among a cluster of other restaurants on an unassuming block of Chapel Street, it begs to be overlooked. However, a colorful chalk sign out front advertises “Egyptian Breakfast for two.” Do either of us know what Egyptian Breakfast entails? No, but we are at Chap’s to find out.
When we entered, the restaurant was empty apart from two men drinking coffee and speaking softly in Arabic. If you walk in far enough, it looks like the old Chap’s: white walls, fluorescent lights, and an old deli counter where you can still get a buttered bagel for $3. However, there has clearly been a new remodel: a giant pink neon sign of the word “marshmallow” occupies an entire wall, sitting within a ring of pillows. Light wood paneling covers nearly every surface. Fake ivy and cherry blossoms do the rest. In between this old and new, a chocolate fountain inexplicably sits unused atop a second counter.
Our Egyptian breakfast arrives at the table, revealing itself to be an omelet with tomato and cheese (probably feta), ful medames (stewed fava beans with cumin and garlic), hummus, fried eggplant with stewed dates, falafel, and steaming, foil-wrapped aish baladi, an Egyptian whole-grain flatbread. Unlike the new decor, the food is humble and wholesome. These dishes are Egyptian staples, and for good reason. The omelet though, folded over and tinged with brown from where it sat too long on the flat-top, is emblematic of an American diner-style omelet. Hummus tempers the salty feta and tomatoes that burst through the fluffy egg, while the ful medames provide a rich counterpoint.
There’s no frills about anything, but unlike the classic all-American breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, everything on our plate is in balance. If overwhelmed by the quantity of fava beans, you can take a bite of dates, sweet and sour fruit cutting through the fat and starch. Falafel provides a wonderful crunch, and the Egyptian falafel, unlike their Levantine counterparts, are lighter, swapping chickpeas for fava beans ground with leeks and green onion. This mellow garlic flavor ties the ful medames and hummus together.
There’s a kind of excavation that happens when the plate hits the table, as we sample each dish, fork in one hand, aish baladi in the other.
As we eat, our attention shifts to the TV above us, where various items are being auctioned off on some shopping channel. Following a segment of dog beds on sale, our server changes the channel to ABC news and we return to our food, wiping our plates clean of hummus and beans with the still-warm flatbread. In the background, Good Morning America shuffles through topics at a dizzying pace and the discussion in Arabic gets more spirited. The breakfast, perhaps like Chaps itself, sits in the space between greasy spoon diner and upscale brunch, between authenticity and the need to turn a profit. To be lured in by the colorful chalk sign on the sidewalk is to dine in this gap, enjoying every minute.
We sit quietly, long after the check has been paid, taking care to not overlook a thing.
Chap’s Grille is located at 1174 Chapel St, New Haven CT.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Every Day
Recommended Dishes: Egyptian Breakfast for Two, Buttered Bagel. $15-20 a person.