I recently returned from Israel where I had the pleasure (or sometimes displeasure) of trying six different pizza places. Some people refer to Israel as the land of milk and honey. Others refer to it as the land of falafel and sharwarma. But Israel will henceforth be known as the land of pizza.
Okay… maybe that’s a stretch, but Israel does have a burgeoning pizza scene… one that has a bright future in urban areas like Tel Aviv. Let me break down the three types of pizza places you can find is Israel:
1) Traditional, old school “pizza” places that make you rethink how you define pizza. These people might be found in small shops in the old city of Jerusalem cooking warm pita-like bread on ovens that look like they date back to the patriarchal days. I went to one place like this — Yeminite Food Bar in Safed.
There’s little that The Pizza (51 Bograshov) doesn’t do right. The majority of the seating — about 8 tables — are located outside on the corner of Pinsker and Bograshov Streets. Another 10 people can sit inside — half on bar stools overlooking the oven. They have a lunch special that runs until 5PM on Sunday-Thursday which can almost be taken advantage of for an early dinner. A mere 51 shekels (that’s about $14) will get you a personal pie with two toppings, a juice, and a soup or salad of your choice. But considering their pies only cost 41 shekels to begin with ($11), heading there for dinner won’t break the bank either.
The Pizza is always crowded. We went around 3:30 PM on a Thursday afternoon and waited about 15 minutes for a table for five. There are nine pies on the menu and we got four of them. I like the limited menu because it gives them a chance to focus on making each pie exceptional. I’ve already drawn comparisons to Motorino and Co — each which have 11 pies on their menu. We ate:
Bianca: Mozzarella, parmesan, feta, olive oil and parsley
Aglio Olio: Olive oil, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, and parmesan
Classic: Tomato sauce, white mozzarella, fresh basil
House: Tomato sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, parmesan, parsley, garlic
I always write about the importance of fresh ingredients, but it doesn’t get much fresher than at The Pizza. A pizza place in New York might have ingredients shipped from California and Italy. Di Fara even imports their basil directly from Israel! Well Israel has some of the freshest produce I’ve ever tasted and only a 10 minute walk from the restaurant is Shuk HaCarmel Market — one of Israel’s largest and arguably most well known outdoor markets.
My favorite pie was the Bianca. It was essentially a mix of really flavorful cheeses on bread with a touch of olive oil and parsley — a tres formaggi of sorts. So simple, yet so delicious. Six of the nine pies on the menu at The Pizza lack tomato sauce and I think they’re better off for it. The House pie and Aglio Olio pie, for example, are very similar, but the tomato sauce takes away from many of the other flavors on the House pie.
(Mozzarella, parmesan, feta, olive oil and parsley)
(Olive oil, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, and parmesan)
A noteworthy difference between The Pizza and comparable places in New York City is that that there is no meat served on any of the pies because the restaurant is kosher and regulations don’t allow for both meat and dairy items to be served together. As someone who doesn’t typically get meat on his pizza, I found this quite accommodating. Anyone who eats pizza with me on a regular basis is certainly accustomed to me asking “…and can you leave the sausage off of that?” No such requests had to be made at The Pizza.
I mentioned how fresh the ingredients were. Well even the condiments on each table were worthy of salivating over. At upscale pizza places in New York, you are still often confronted with a glass shaker of uninspiring garlic, parsley, or pepper. Leave it to The Pizza to present you with what appears to be fresh cut reds and greens for your liking. Whether or not it tasted any different is debatable, but it certainly makes for some nice eye candy.