1. Every bite like a French kiss
I Love Sandwich, 2 Brenner St.
Style is the first thing that gets your attention at I Love Sandwich, which opened recently on Brenner Street, near the corner of Allenby (a strong candidate for the title of “ugliest street in Tel Aviv”). It seems out of place in the noisy and rather unattractive milieu, straight out of a postcard: Look through the plate-glass window and there’s a young fellow in a beret, a black apron and a starched, gleaming white shirt, slicing baguettes and assembling sandwiches. This is not the sort of thing you often see around here. We somehow managed to make ourselves understood, between his very minimal Hebrew and my nearly nonexistent French. And what do you know, that also lent the experience a nice foreign touch.
At I Love Sandwich (there wasn’t a sign, but the sandwich maker conveyed the name with a “heart” hand gesture), kashrut is observed using separate display cases for cheese and for meat. The price is the same: 25 shekels ($7.20) per sandwich. I ordered one honey-camembert and one pastrami-salami. The pastrami-salami was standard, in a good way, with a judicious smear of homemade mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, aromatic French salami and mild turkey pastrami. No more, no less. All in a long, narrow baguette with a thick crust; the interior straddling the line between airy and dense. This isn’t a sandwich that’ll knock your socks off, far from it, but all the same it is quite satisfying, even more than that. The baguettes here are larger than average, and they come with a totally decent amount of filling. Also, the price is as fair as you’ll find anywhere, certainly compared to many other cafes and sandwich shops.
But the honey-camembert sandwich was in another league entirely. Simple yet tremendous. The baguette is spread with a little honey then topped with generous chunks of a soft cheese that’s almost creamy in texture, arugula leaves, slivered walnuts and a little olive oil and black pepper. A few years ago, at a small restaurant in Paris, I ate a baked camembert loaf with a little honey, and this sandwich is the closest thing I’ve tasted to that. The sweetness of the honey, the strong taste of the cheese, the sharp flavor of the arugula and the crunchiness of the nuts blended together wonderfully into one delectable bite after another. You’ll have a hard time finding a comparable sandwich, in terms of quality and generosity of portion size, anywhere in the city. Brush up on your French and go order one.
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Saba Pizza 9 Rothschild Blvd.Daily 5 A.M.-5 P.M.
Saba Pizza is the new pizzeria opened by chef Omer Miller, the man responsible for numerous other local eateries, including the Susu & Sons hamburger chain and the Calypso beach restaurant. The concept is individual pizzas only, which are made right when ordered, with an endless number of toppings to choose from.
At first, it seems as if Miller has found two new annoying gimmicks: One is the 15 basic pizza options (priced from 42 to 68 shekels), with names like “I just got up from a nap and can’t remember my name” or “Erdogan and a priest walk into a bar ... “ The other is the selection of toppings (from 4 to 36 shekels each) which is never-ending. Among the 100 options are lobster, caviar, baby shrimp, Italian olives, porcini, lamb bacon, goose breast, prosciutto, salted peanuts, fresh polenta The list goes on and on.
We ordered “Who’s coming to Susu?” (red sauce, cheddar, tomatoes, red onion and chopped meat; 52 shekels). The cheddar wasn’t enough in evidence, the small meatballs were nice (though ultimately this is a pretty familiar topping, especially in American versions of pizza), and the overall impression was more akin to a rather bland lahmajoun. We also sampled “Dieting is for Wimps” (white sauce, gouda, Parmesan, pancetta and egg; 66 shekels); “Better Not” (red sauce, mozzarella, smoked corned beef, hot peppers and egg; 58 shekels); and a do-it-yourself pizza (36 shekels for the basic pizza plus 6 shekels for mozzarella, 4 shekels for fresh jalapeno and 8 shekels for mini zucchini; 58 shekels). Thanks to an impressive number of workers and ovens, you don’t wait too long here for your pizza, even though the line grows steadily longer as the hours go by.
The dough is quite good — pliant, of a good thickness and baked well so that it doesn’t collapse under the weight of the toppings. The numerous toppings are also quite good. It can’t be that easy to maintain a display case with so many different items, but their freshness was noticeable in all the different pizzas we ordered.
The amount of toppings used isn’t so small you feel like you’ve been stiffed, nor is it so much that you’ll be completely sated. And since the pizzas don’t come with a lot of sauce, cheese or herbs and spices, but rely mainly on the added toppings, the result can sometimes be a little anemic. The diameter of the pizzas are not always exactly the same, but they’re bigger than the average individual pizza, and closer to medium size. Though when prices start at 42 shekels and climb steeply from there, we’re talking some pretty pricey pizza here.
3. Bourekas in the market, with Wi-Fi
Junam, 20 Rabbi Akiva St. (03) 955-2023 Sun.-Fri, 9 A.M.-4 P.M.
Last week, I was passing by a bourekas stall in the Carmel Market when an unusual sign caught my eye: This place has Wi-Fi. Enough reason to check out the food. The food at Junam (“soul” in Farsi) is based on a thin lafa pita baked until crisp and spread with meat, vegetables and sauces. They serve four types of “junam” (34 to 49 shekels): classic (with meat, similar to lahmajoun), with shakshuka, with eggplant and with a squash and lima bean mixture.
Lahmajoun is a terrific food. It has an enjoyable minimalism to it — thin dough, well-seasoned meat, tomatoes and that’s about all it. It starts off well at Junam too, with a lafa spread with a thin layer of a reddish meat mixture drizzled lightly with olive oil and then baked. But here’s where Junam falls into a trap: Should they just serve it like this, it will surely be tasty but also less than satisfying, given the rather meager amount of meat and the relatively high price. So what to do? Load it up with tahini-amba sauce, garlic and pickled lemon sauce, and a somewhat spicy salad of tomatoes, greens, purple cabbage and sesame.
The result is certainly colorful and looks to be quite filling, but when you follow the advice of the folks working there and roll it up before eating it, by the second or third bite already you’re having trouble making sense of what you’re eating. Junam’s intentions are good, and the service is more than pleasant. And the basic idea is appealing as well. But the truly good food stalls are the ones that devote themselves to something very specific and precise. As the saying goes, sometimes, less really is more.
4. Quick lunch from a local star chef
Dunya 4 Habarzel St. Sun.-Thur. 12-5 P.M.
kay, at this point, when so many Israeli chefs have opened diners and street food stalls, it’s nothing to get excited about anymore. The latest addition to the list is chef Meir Adoni’s Dunya. But unlike other examples of the genre, it doesn’t try to hide its potential to turn into a big business: Prior to its opening, it was already reported to be designed from the outset to become a nationwide chain operating on a franchise model; and of all the streets in Tel Aviv, Habarzel Street in Ramat Hahayal was chosen as the location for the first branch. The site may lack for atmosphere, especially at midday, but what it does have are thousands of office workers streaming out of their buildings at lunch time, short on time and looking for a bite. They need to be fed, and fast. And if possible, induced to return the next day and the next week and so on.
Dunya’s relatively expansive menu contains all the familiar Israeli classics: shawarma, kebab, mixed grill, hreimeh (spicy North African fish), beef sausage, arayis (stuffed pita), stuffed vegetables and various stews. And hamburgers, too, of course, because that’s a must. The whole thing runs like clockwork. We arrived at the height of the lunch hour, but we were immediately able to get a seat, thanks to the area’s “eat and run” dynamic.
We ordered three items: chicken shawarma in frena (Moroccan-style pita, 47 shekels), hreimeh in pita (47 shekels) and lamb sausage (53 shekels). Prices range from 39 to 67 shekels, and it’s good value for money: The portions are larger than average, with a generous side, you can help yourself to as many pickled vegetables you like from the well-stocked buffet. Chances are, you won’t walk out hungry.
The shawarma here is very good. That’s due in part to the goose fat and the way it’s roasted on a charcoal grill so that it comes out juicy with a wonderful color and aroma. You get quite a nice amount of it inside a frena, which was a tad too soft to easily handle the juices from the meat, the roasted vegetables, the garlic and the pickled lemon, which were good and fresh. But the tastiest and most delightful surprise at this place was to be found in the 30-centimer-long (!) lamb sausage, which comes from the David Lagziel butcher shop. This was real hard-core stuff: The unusual length and the mixture of seasoned lamb and sweetbreads make this sausage something extraordinary.