It’s an inspiring sandwich at the Mikveh Sandwich Bar. Stuffed with lovingly home-cured corned beef and served with sides of pickled sauerkraut cooked with bits of sausage, crisp, well-spiced home fries, and a simple green salad with slivers of kolrabi and radish, this offering at an unassuming lunch spot on Tel Aviv’s Mikveh Yisrael Street is close to perfect.
And it’s kosher. Really. In Tel Aviv. Sure, sure, there are plenty of kosher restaurants in the Big Orange. In fact, there are also a kosher cafe and kosher bakery on either side of The Mikveh, in the trendy Gan Hahashmal quarter, known mostly for its hip and funky boutiques.
However, owner Yisrael Yulzari did not initially intend for The Mikveh to be kosher. When he opened a year and a half ago, he layered the sandwiches with slices of Gilboa cheese and sprinkings of Parmesan. Yet he found that many of his customers were not locals, but suburban types who work nearby and like their meat to be kosher and free of milk products, since the combination is prohibited for those who keep kosher.
“They’re traditional that way,” said Yulzari. “Their hummus doesn’t have to be certified kosher, but meat does.”
Given that Yulzari is closed on the weekends, he figured he could afford to nix the cheese and become certified. That said, he now gets some ultra-Orthodox clients from Jerusalem, but his bona fide Tel Aviv customers won’t walk in, precisely because it is kosher.
“It’s topsy turvy,” he said, using the term hafuch al hafuch to explain why a kosher restaurant is a turnoff to secular Tel Avivians. “They think the meat can’t be as good because it’s kosher,” even though he’s been serving the same beef all along.
Yulzari, who owned the well-known Hummus Bavli and Hummus Asli in Tel Aviv, as well as other restaurants in his 30 years in the food business, smokes his own meats, which includes corned beef, honey roasted turkey, entrecote and sirloin. The rolls are also baked on the premises and are a Moroccan recipe, said Yulzari, with a slightly olive oily sheen and taste of paprika. “We’re a mishmash here.”
It’s funny, though. It feels almost forbidden to be eating a meat sandwich in Gan Hahashmal, where you expect the offerings to be a little, well, treif. I washed mine down with a glass of pineapple gazoz, soda water spiked with pineapple syrup, while my friend had a plain soda water on the side.
As we tucked into our sandwiches, sitting on stools at the bar on the sidewalk, more than one passerby glanced at our trays in envy. Who wouldn’t? It was lunchtime, and we had these comprehensive meals in front of us, ready to be devoured and relished.
“This was a concept I’d had in mind for many years,” said Yulzari — even while he was mixing batches of hummus in northern Tel Aviv. “I wanted a place for my retirement years, a place I could have open for lunch and close at 6 p.m., without working 15 hours a day.”
As for the name, Yulzari has always named his eateries after their location, because it “ties the food to the place.”
That it does. There’s nothing like shopping to whet the appetite and whether shopping or strolling in the Gan, Mivkeh’s sandwich is well worth the time.
3 Mikveh Yisrael, Gan Hahhashmal, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.