We were almost convinced it had become impossible to surprise us when it comes to grilled meat.
Then Bshara Hinnawi opened a barbecue stand in his butcher shop.
No, no need to feel confused, this is not the same review from two weeks ago, or the one that came out before that. Yes, that’s right, you are looking at a picture of a pita with skewers of grilled meat. And yes, for the third time in a month. Are we witnessing what food columnists will soon be calling a “red-hot trend” as they list all the new grill joints that have opened this summer, with more sure to come? Possibly. But before that happens, let us pause and remember: Grilled meat skewers are no mere passing fancy. We’ll leave that to other types of street food. Skewers of grilled meat are past, present and future. And really good ones, as we have written here before, are forever.
Bshara Hinnawi knows a thing or two about these things, coming as he does from a Jaffa dynasty of butchers that for decades has been slicing, skewering meats, and making the kebabs that many of us grill. He, too, apparently, noticed the increasing local fondness for this instant winner, as basic as it is classic. A minute or two after that, I imagine, he must have glanced at the huge display window of his main shop at the end of Yefet Street and realized just what he had to do. So a few shelves were moved and crates were emptied, and last week a small stand was set up in a corner of the shop: Three chairs, a bag of pitas, a cutting surface and, of course – a charcoal grill.
What is placed on that grill manages to be, all at once, oh-so-familiar and truly exceptional. The principle is simple and found in many delis (cheeses, Italian, meats) around town. It is an invitation: If you’ve come all this way to buy your favorite ingredients, or were just passing by to take a peek and maybe get some ideas for your next home-cooked meal, why don't you indulge in a quick bite too? Even though the idea is plenty familiar from other places, Hinnawi’s little grill corner still managed to surprise us. To completely wow us, actually.
It all starts with the meat. The quality of this butcher shop’s products are well-known, but the new barbecue stand offers an unusual chance to streamline the process – from the display window straight to the grill, without transporting the meat anywhere, refrigerating it again or, worse, freezing it. Whatever you select is assembled there on the spot, just when you place the order. Only then are the whole and incredibly fresh cuts of meat sliced and cubed and skewered and placed on the fire. Meat lovers, even those who aren’t such connoisseurs, will instantly notice the difference in texture and flavor that this immediacy brings.
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The direct connection between the source of the meat and the site of its preparation is good news not only for your stomach, but for your pocket too. Let us put it this way: If you were offered these prices at other street food meat places, you’d be skeptical – perhaps rightly – about the quality of the food; a decent place should surely charge you dozens of shekels more for the same thing.
Hinnawi’s menu looks like a record-breaker: They'll charge 20 shekels for a portion of kebab, spring chicken, merguez sausage, liver or hearts, and just 10 shekels for an extra skewer of any of these; 30-35 shekels for a skewer of lamb or entrecote, and just 8-10 shekels to double the portion; and no more than 38-40 shekels for two skewers that combine the “low” and “high” categories. Oh, and there’s also a small bonus in honor of the grand opening. They couldn’t ignore the unflagging popularity of ‘arais (pita sections stuffed with ground meat and grilled), so they offer ‘arais ready to go – and for just 8 shekels, they’ll also toss one on the grill for you, which I’m pretty sure makes this the cheapest ‘arais anywhere in this part of the country and beyond.
The only thing left to rate was the execution. It was flawless. We ordered all sorts of combinations (and also brought some back to a bunch of starving folks in the office), and ‘arais, too, because there was no way we could resist the temptation. Hinnawi’s pita, in the finest tradition of this genre of street food, doesn’t fuss around with unnecessary side dishes. Alongside the meat on the grill, they place tomatoes, a hot green pepper and onions and let them get a nice char. The vegetables are then chopped and combined into a simple and splendid “grilled salad.”
The pita is put together patiently, which is not something you see everywhere. The generous skewers are removed from the fire at just the right moment and taken apart on the counter, rather than shoved straight into the pita. The different ingredients are inserted in such a way that each bite contains all the flavors: A little meat, a little salad, tahini and/or amba. It should seem abundantly clear by now that we absolutely loved the result, from the tender and juicy entrecote, the lamb with its divine layer of fat, the excellent kebab, the superb merguez, to the ‘arais, that was just pure fun to eat.
By the last few bites, you'll be debating whether to order something else, or to refrain and think about future plans. When should I come here next, you'll ponder: On Saturday after the beach? On my next free afternoon? Maybe after the game in Bloomfield, now that it has finally reopened? If you ask us, the answer is easy: All of the above.
Hinnawi, 180 Yefet Street, Jaffa. 054-5922290. Open Monday –Saturday 11:00-23:00 (map)