Cleopatra Nights at the Hot Jumbo Bagel Company

Hot Jumbo Bagel hosts a tearoom brimming with sophisticated exotica into the wee hours? Who knew?

Cleopatra Nights at the Hot Jumbo Bagel Company

307 W. Fifth, 477-1137

Friday-Saturday, 7pm-wee hours

Tired of Mexican food at two in the morning? Looking for someplace else to grab a cheap snack, perhaps something a bit more exotic than the same old taco and cheese? Well look no more: Austin now has its very own Russian and Mediterranean tea room on Friday and Saturday nights. Set within an unlikely location at the Hot Jumbo Bagel storefront, the Cleopatra Nights is one more example of the curious, hybrid eateries to hit the Austin dining scene.

It's not easy to imagine how the fluorescent lights, cutesy dolls, and AstroTurf carpet of Hot Jumbo Bagel company can metamorphose into a smoke-filled Russian-style tearoom, complete with houkas, belly dancers, and a lively after-hours crowd. Daytime hours rarely see a full house in the aging storefront, which at this point is merely secondary to Hot Jumbo Bagel Company's thriving wholesale business. And indeed, when I visited the restaurant at 7:30 one Friday, the transformation had hardly begun. Russian and Middle Eastern techno-pop --- played overly loud on the stereo -- was perhaps the only hint of what was to come. The mingling of low-tech décor with high tech music was oddly reassuring though, and facilitated my belief in the little cafe's integrity.

The Cleopatra Nights menu offers a basic assortment of Lebanese, Mediterranean, and Russian specialties. The foods are neither complex nor expensive, but are rather firmly rooted within the ubiquitous street-food genre of fried, steamed, and warmed. They are snacks, which can be made into a meal, but which are really better adapted to sidewalk social dining and late-night munchies. Boiled Russian pelmeni (tiny spiced meat-stuffed ravioli), potato-filled piroshki (a light potato-stuffed bun), meat pies, hummus, babaghannouj, and stuffed cabbage evoke busy outdoor markets and tented bazaars. True food aficionados will find that quality varies: The pelmeni are definitely packaged, and the pies are a bit soggy. The hummus and babaghannouj are marvelous, though. The tea room's Lebanese owner certainly knows her native cuisine. She also knows what an increasingly diverse and international city Austin has become of late. Her customers come from all over the globe. This little afterhours cafe caters to the hordes of worldly Austin newcomers (and some old-timers) who seek comfort and entertainment in places other than a bowl of queso.

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