This pandemic has been especially brutal for our restaurant sector. In particular, we lament the permanent loss of many popular eateries. On the other hand, it is undeniable that, somewhat paradoxically, two culinary trends have been reinforced precisely during this challenging time.
One trend is the proliferation of pop-ups: temporary restaurants – some physical (i.e., brick-and-mortar), others virtual only – that offer a typically limited menu for a short period of time, often two or three days a week. Occasionally, these pop-ups become so popular that they morph into a more lasting format. We hope to review one or two of these phenomena in the coming weeks.
Another trend is toward delivery and take-away of restaurant food, and early signs are that this development is here to stay. Israelis seem to have grown accustomed to enjoying restaurant-quality food in the comfort of their own homes. Right now, people are excited about suddenly returning to some sort of normalcy, and thus are flocking to fill Israel’s restaurants. At the same time, restaurants are reporting that delivery and take-away orders are not dropping off at the rates they expected. Indeed, expectations are that they could continue to be a stable source of vital revenue.
A prominent subset of delivery and take-away vendors are the delicatessens: specialty shops that sell premium foodstuffs meant to be eaten at home. The items for sale include delicacies that can be either pre-packaged (in cans, jars or bags) or prepared on-site by cooks and served up in sealed containers rather than on plates. The latter component has gained more prominence as delis strive to meet the demand for more ready-to-eat variety.
Accordingly, chefs who were underemployed during the pandemic were drawn – in addition to catering private meals – to collaborating with delis. Of course, some leading chefs have been involved in the deli business for some time: Ruti Broudo, founder of the R2M Group of restaurants and co-host of the prime-time cooking show MKR, has been expanding her deli empire from the original restaurant-deli on Yehuda Halevi St. to four locations throughout Tel Aviv.
Similarly, chef Avi Bitton (of Café Popular) has been overseeing the dynamic growth of his kosher Sulica delicatessen chain to three suburban locations.
MOST RECENTLY, the kosher Hamezaveh chain of purveyors of “boutique food” has joined forces with renowned chef Yossi Shitrit (Onza, Mashya, Kitchen Market and countless TV commercials) to create a line of both pre-packaged foods and sandwiches assembled fresh on toasted ciabatta rolls at the deli counter.
Hamezaveh is likely under most people’s radar, because it is situated a bit removed from the largest metropolitan areas. It started small in Hadera, focusing on its specialty – smoked meats, made from the best cuts of beef – and had been able to expand to outlets in Herzliya, Netanya, and lastly, Rehovot.
The Herzliya branch, located in the upscale Herzliya Hills neighborhood, is a truly impressive operation. It now comprises two separate, adjacent boutiques: one meat and one dairy. In addition to the standard certification of rabbinic supervision, all pre-packaged foods – domestic and imported – bear labels of kashrut.
WHEN I WAS invited to sample some of chef Shitrit’s contributions, the branch manager insisted I first try the chain’s selection of smoked meats. As I progressed from the cold corned beef and roast beef to the instantly warmed prime rib and picanha, one thing became clear: All of the Hamezaveh cured meats are in a league above what one finds in the supermarkets.
Two of the three Yossi Shitrit specialty sandwiches (NIS 35) are assembled in this section, while the third features cheese. I was tempted by the King of Morocco sandwich (made with pepper beef, tehina and Moroccan extras), but the staff unanimously recommended the Iraqi Chicken, starring smoked chicken thigh straight from the deli’s rotisserie, enhanced with amba tehina, pickled lemon, caramelized onion with sumac and fresh cilantro. Although there are tables for eating outside, I decided to take my sandwich home.
I was then shown the shelves stocked with all sorts of Hamezaveh private-label salads, spreads, sauces, marinades and spices. The glass-doored refrigerators displayed a tantalizing array of charcuterie, kebabs and sausages (especially choice frankfurters) manufactured exclusively for Hamezaveh. Here, too, one finds delicacies inspired by Shitrit: three types of kebab.
That evening, I started dinner with herring in mustard (NIS 24), one of several fish delicacies whipped up in the Hamezaveh kitchens. This was my first experience with this combination, and it was a novel and delicious way to eat an otherwise familiar Jewish classic.
This was followed by the much anticipated chicken sandwich, which exploded in robust flavor with the first bite. When I discovered that there were subsequent bites where the moist, tender chicken was slightly overwhelmed by the condiments, I simply added slices of avocado, cucumber and/or radish, which added balance, heft and nutritional value to the sandwich.
The satisfying meal was washed down with one of Shitrit’s signature Hamezaveh drinks: a viscous cinnamon yogurt beverage (NIS 18) that was as satisfying as it was refreshing. (Malabi and orange flavors were also crafted by the chef.)
Two evenings later, we continued the Shitrit theme by grilling his Turkish kebabs (NIS 60), which I had chosen because of the chef’s demonstrated expertise in that cuisine. The enjoyment began the moment the patties of ground lamb, beef and lamb fat hit the hot skillet and emitted wafting smoke redolent of Oriental spices. The resulting sizzling kebabs (shrunken to half their size after cooking) were outstanding: even my Romanian companion, who doubted any kebabs could compete with those of her native land, was very pleased with the subtle yet savory seasoning mixture.
Fittingly, dessert was sutlach, a relatively unknown Turkish rice pudding that requires 25 minutes of prep and cooking time, using the ingredients provided in the complete Shitrit kit (NIS 70) from Hamezaveh. The warm, soupy dish of round rice sweetened with orange marmalade and rosewater and sprinkled with pistachios was an excellent, exotic treat. An added bonus was that later, the cooled, thickened pudding retained its special taste.
In addition to the successful boutique delis, Hamezaveh operates a food truck and caters events.