Better than Bubbe
While Jewish deli has experienced the thrill of a revival in recent years, the type of Jewish home cooking that Israel-born Michael Solomonov grew up with has not—but he's set out to change that with his two new Philadelphia restaurants.
He opened Dizengoff, an Israeli-style hummusiya last month, and Abe Fisher, which is next door, last week. Even in a city where stellar new restaurants open on a weekly basis, Solomonov's new projects stand out for their ambition to make Jewish diaspora cuisine cool.
"Jewish food gets a bad rap as bland, but there are flavors that really deserve to be showcased," says Solomonov. Abe Fisher isn't so much a spin-off from Zahav, Solomonov's revolutionary Israeli-food restaurant, as it is a foray into the complexities of Jewish cuisine.
At Abe Fisher, every dish pays tribute to a Jewish classic. Fried rice with kosher salami, shrimp and egg yolk ($12) is a playful tribute to that most Jewish of all eateries, the Chinese restaurant. And the sweet and sour meatballs ($14), modeled after "the Swedish meatballs you get at a bar mitzvah," come with a house-made Boursin—a sort of upscale schmear—surrounded by a sweet tomato sauce cooked with golden raisins and stewed zucchini, inspired by the stuffed cabbage that your bubbe might have made.
Israeli posters paper the wall. | Photo: CookNSolo
Simplicity is inherent to much of Solomonov's cooking (Federal Donuts, arguably his most successful endeavor, serves only fried chicken and doughnuts), so it's fitting that Dizengoff, named after one of Tel Aviv's most prominent streets, offers just a single dish. Hummus is the most iconic and humble of modern Israeli food, which, unlike the food of the diaspora, is largely a product of its environment.
"A hummusiya is the kind of thing you only find in Israel," says Solomonov. "Hummus is a street food, a snack, what cabbies eat in the morning."
Dizengoff could almost be called a hole-in-the-wall, with only 25 seats at communal picnic tables and Israeli posters covering the walls. A plate of hummus ($9-$11), made in fresh batches throughout the day, comes decorated with matbucha, a roasted tomato salad, or dotted with roasted corn. On the side: Pickles imported from Israel (Solomonov says it's impossible to make them properly here because Philly doesn't have the requisite sunshine), house-made salatim (small vegetable dishes) and fresh pita. Why a hummusiya? "Everyone talks about the hummus at Zahav, so why not make it really accessible?" Solomonov says.
It's simple but satisfying, another step toward making a good name for Jewish food.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.