With Hanukkah behind us and Christmas approaching, I have been virtually inundated with letters and e-mails inquiring about Jewish restaurants. My guess is that it has something to do with the nostalgia inspired by holiday seasons. Jo Goldenberg, owner of the Jewish delicatessen in Paris that carries his own name, once claimed, "People don't come to my restaurant so much to eat as they do to cry for nostalgia."
There was logic to Goldenberg's claim, for although there is nothing gentle, modern or sophisticated to the dishes of the Eastern Jewish kitchens from where these dishes came, what the world has come to think of as "Jewish cuisine" is indeed the heartland of nostalgia. Better yet, many of these dishes are absolutely delicious.
Following are five places at which such nostalgic lusts can be comfortably satisfied.
This Tel Aviv landmark has been serving food from the Jewish kitchen in the same place for 60 years, and it always reminds me of a bombed-out railroad terminal.
Whatever, the place maintains a distinct Jewish charm. Whenever I come here, I start off with small orders of gefilte fish and chopped liver and go on to the cholent which I always take with the kishke which is marvelous because it has plenty of onion, pepper and chicken fat.
Because overeating seems to be de rigueur in such restaurants, I also take a small sampling of the simple but delicious baked beef. I also have a passion for the invariably overcooked but delicious goose legs and thighs. Prices are reasonable. Open daily 11:00-about 21:00.
197 Dizengoff St., Tel Aviv, tel: (03) 5221335.
Situated in a private house that is not only old but old fashioned, with small rooms and even a garden in which one can dine, this place seems ideal for Polish-Jewish food. In fact, the restaurant is so charmingly old worldly that one could believe they were eating in the home of some ancient aunt who has personally prepared the dishes for you. There is no ancient aunt here but the chopped chicken liver, calves' foot jelly, egg salad, schmaltz herring in onions, and verenekas filled with potatoes and onions are just fine, the chicken soup with kneidlach is so good that one can easily understand why some consider this the "Jewish penicillin."
As main courses, try the beef tongue in herbed, lemony sauce, the meat balls, beef stew, fried chicken livers and chicken paprikas. Fun, nostalgia and good eating come together nicely here. Prices are reasonable. Open daily from 12:00 - 24:00 or later.
42 Montefiore St., Tel Aviv, tel. (03) 5602228
When Gad and Rivka Cohen arrived in Mandatory Palestine in 1920, they built a small house on what is now 146 Herzl St. In 1936, the Cohens opened a Polish-Jewish restaurant on the ground floor and the restaurant has been there ever since. Although Yiddish is no longer the lingua franca, the air is charged with old-world Jewishness. Even though some of the dishes are disappointing (the roast goose is almost always overcooked), this is one of the most popular and respected restaurants in its category and the many regulars at this establishment defend it fiercely. My own favorites here are chicken soup, gefilte fish, cholent (be sure to take it with the marvelous kishke) and the baked beef. Be sure as well to try the sweet cabbage and the sweet cooked carrots. A bit expensive but worth it. Open Sunday-Thursday from 10:00-22:30. Kosher.
146 Herzl St., Tel Aviv, tel: (03) 6810222
Located in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv, and somewhere in style between a diner and a luncheonette, this casual, sometimes noisy eatery serves up equal amounts of nostalgia and food from the Eastern-European Jewish kitchen. Salamis hanging from the ceiling, soup crocks on the counter and the sometimes brusque service all adds to the charm of this Tel Aviv institution. The bean soup and cold borscht are always good, the chicken liver has just enough goose fat and pepper, the cholent (with or without kishke) is a gift from the gods, and the baked beef served with carrot tzimmis and coleslaw is a delight. Be there no question, beer is the de rigueur beverage here. Open daily from 09:00-01:00.
35 Wolfson St., Tel Aviv, tel: (03) 5182478
Regulars congregate at this 50-year-old Tel Aviv cafe about an hour before it even opens, to sit outside and read their newspapers until the coffee and croissants are ready. There is nothing fancy or pretentious about this neighborhood cafe but Tel Avivians know the goulash soup, which comes with a remarkable amount of good tender beef and potatoes, is about the best in the country. So good is Olga's goulash soup that some consider it a cure for a broken heart. If goulash isn't your cup of soup you won't go at all wrong with the Polish krupnik, an equally rich soup of barley, potatoes and beef. Open Sunday-Thursday from 07:00-about 23:00 and on Fridays until 18:00. Closed Saturdays.
110 Jabotinsky St., Tel Aviv, tel: (03) 6968581
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