TENAFLY, New Jersey – Friday, 8:30 A.M. The aroma of fresh challah for Shabbat greets customers as they enter the Bread Boutique and Café, an Israeli-owned locale in a small shopping center in this town of 15,000, one of the biggest Israeli strongholds in the New York area.
Homes in the area sell for millions of dollars. The next town over is Alpine, one of America’s priciest zip codes, replete with celebrity mansions: Jay-Z, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Britney Spears and former NBA star Patrick Ewing, just to name a few.
The café isn’t very big, fewer than 10 tables, and it feels even smaller whenever an Israeli pops in. Yes, the typical American orders coffee and a nosh and sits down to read the paper or browse emails. But all the Israelis who stroll in seem to make their presence known to all.
One person hugs another, some guy calls out to someone he recognizes at a table in the corner, a group of pastry lovers sit down to munch and loudly discuss something that happened in Israel the night before, while others stand around holding their coffee and chatting like old friends.
There can be something a bit stressful about entering such an Israeli place for the first time. It’s kind of like going to the wedding of a distant relative you haven’t seen for a long time. You get that feeling that everyone is checking you out, trying to figure out where they know you from, or if they know you at all. They good-naturedly ask where you’re from, what you do, why you’re taking pictures, who you write for, and before you know it, the discussion has turned to Benjamin Netanyahu and the leftist media.
Owners Tali Siso and Orly Amos stand behind the counter enjoying every minute. They opened the café a little over a year ago, and now practically every Israeli – and Jew – from the area is talking about it.
The ice cream may be Italian, the display case may be heaving with French macaroons, the coffee mostly comes from Colombia, but the food – all made on-site – is as Israeli as it gets: a variety of challahs for Shabbat ($8 apiece), rugelach, babka and of course bourekas – filled with cheese, mushrooms, spinach or potato.
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There are also large bourekas, like the ones you’ll find at any shopping center in Israel, served with pickles, hard-boiled eggs and tahini ($10), jachnun on Sundays ($10), shashuka, sabich, and for those who still prefer it – a cup of Elite instant coffee. The prices, obviously, are more American – three small pastries for $5, or eight for $12.
Coming to America
Siso came to New Jersey 10 years ago; she had taken several baking courses in Israel. When she got to America, she opened a chain of cosmetics stores that at one point boasted 10 branches. A little over five years ago, she launched a French-concept café at a mall in the area.
Orly Amos came to New Jersey around the same time because of her husband’s work in the diamond trade. The two women met at a social event a few years ago and soon were baking together. It started with jelly doughnuts for big events for Israeli companies in New York like Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi.
Eventually they decided to open their new café. In the beginning, they relied on assistance from chef Adir Michaeli, but now they run the place alone and insist that everything be baked on the premises. Nothing is imported from Israel and no dough comes prewrapped from a factory. The business has a kashrut certificate, which, while it might not satisfy Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, is deemed sufficient by many observant Jews from the area.
“All of our ingredients are OU-certified, and we have a kashrut certificate from two rabbis, one from New Jersey and one from New York,” Siso says, referring to the New York-based organization Orthodox Union.
“The certificate we have satisfies our customers’ requirements. If we wanted ultra-Orthodox customers we’d have to only use Chalav Yisrael, and that’s a much more complicated and expensive procedure that wouldn’t pay for us and would affect the quality of our products.”
Yes, when you first walk in you may think you’ve entered an Israeli wedding hall. And nearly everyone is speaking Hebrew, the music is by Shlomo Artzi and the trays are piled high with all kinds of bourekas.
“We get a good number of Israeli customers, families coming to visit relatives living in the area, and the first thing they ask for is Turkish coffee like in Israel,” Siso says. “So we have that, and we also have Elite instant coffee. Everyone can have what they’re used to having at home.”
So what’s next? Siso says they’re looking into opening a bigger branch, also in New Jersey. They’re not yet thinking about New York. “In New York, there are plenty of Israeli places already,” Siso says.
“But here we feel we’re answering a real need. There’s no other authentic Israeli place like ours in the whole area. Sure there other places that sell shakshuka, but here we make it like in Israel, all from scratch. Not from canned tomatoes but from fresh tomatoes, slow-cooked for hours.”