Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner remembers those times, not so very long ago, when “yellow” and “white” were the only two cheeses sold in Israeli markets.
Today, the abundance of cheese and every other foodstuff, both domestic and imported — and, critically, the culinary expertise to turn them into crowd-pleasing dishes — has made the Jewish state into a major destination for foodies.
So where should you plan on eating in the Holy Land, once you’ve finally digested the famed Israeli hotel breakfast? Rabbi Kirshner, the spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, has the answer to that question. He calls it The 2 Plate Solution: Where the Middle-Eats. (It’s at www.2platesolution.com.)
The playfully named website, launched this summer while Rabbi Kirshner and his family were staying in Jerusalem, rates 60-plus restaurants in Jerusalem, Modi’in, Herzliya, and Tel Aviv on a 4-falafel scale and adds a personal review and a price and menu rating.
“It’s been exciting to see the country’s growth through the lens of food,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “I’m a foodie, and I travel to Israel between four and eight times a year, leading trips for Temple Emanu-El and for groups such as UJA, JNF, and AIPAC, so I get people asking me very often where to eat when they come to Israel.
“I found myself giving more intricate, lively, and detailed answers than were they to ask me talmudic queries or halachic challenges. It brought out an energy and passion inside me.”
Just perusing the photo-filled entries is enough to get your mouth watering and your funny bone tickling.
Hatch, a restaurant in Jerusalem, for instance, is described as “Fuddruckers meets Bennigans for Yeshiva boys” and gets a 4-falafel rating as “a brewery and eatery that puts equal energy into both endeavors.”
Sushi Kebab doesn’t fare as well: “I wouldn’t run to Sushi Kebab…maybe just ‘roll’ over sometime when you are in the shuk. Place your order, go shopping and it should be ready by the time you are done picking out nectarines and halvah,” Rabbi Kirshner advises.
You can tell he spent a lot of time on this labor of love, and that he had a wonderful time doing it.
Rabbi Kirshner emphasized that he never compromises the integrity of his work by accepting food or services in exchange for a good review, and he will never monetize the website in any way.
“It is a service to the kosher, the hungry, and the lovers of Zion,” he pledged.
Indeed, all the restaurants reviewed have some sort of kosher certification; the kashrut supervision situation in Israel is so complex that Rabbi Kirshner decided not to enter that fray and leaves it to individual diners to decide if the level of kashrut of a particular establishment meets their requirements.
The website includes a mix of touristy eateries, fine dining, and street or fast-food joints frequented by locals. What’s interesting is that some of the priciest places don’t get the best reviews. The rabbi tells it like it is, straight from the taste buds.
“The most rewarding part was writing up the reports on each restaurant,” he said. “Everyone knows about Crave” — a beloved deli on the edge of the Machane Yehuda Market, where “almost every item mixes some form of meat and pareve cheese,” he writes in a glowing review — “but there are others people don’t know about that are equally exciting and unique.” For example, Segev Burger, “brazenly located across the street from Crave,” which Rabbi Kirshner crowns the “Burger King” of Jerusalem.
The 2 Plate Solution has categories for meat, dairy, grill, shawarma, bakery, take-out, and ice-cream establishments. No vegetarian or vegan, we asked? “No… for now,” Rabbi Kirshner replied. (We hope he’ll reconsider, as Israel’s vegan cuisine is a fast-growing category attracting worldwide attention.)
The website was designed by Rabbi Kirshner’s nephew, Reuben Ingber of New York. The creative name of the endeavor came from a spontaneous quip by Rabbi Willie Balk, a member of the rabbinic staff at Congregation Ahavath Torah of Englewood. “I led him on an AIPAC trip to Israel and he said at a buffet dinner one night, ‘I need a two-plate solution.’ It stuck,” Rabbi Kirshner said.
In the first 33 hours after the website went live, more than 2,000 people tracked it. “I must have sent it to about 85,000 viewers,” Rabbi Kirshner said.
“My goal is to get all synagogues of all denominations, and all tour groups, to use this as a resource for eating in Israel. I hope it continues to stay updated and alive, and I also hope to get guest bloggers putting their thoughts and feelings in there too.”
Though it may not be as contentious as a two-state solution, 2 Plate Solution undoubtedly will draw its share of fierce debate. Perhaps you may disagree with Rabbi Kirshner’s description of Moshiko (2 falafels) as “an overrated shawarma stand that lasts on location and history — not taste” or you might get a stomach ache from the gooey half-baked rugelach at Marzipan Bakery (4 falafels) that he dubs “the best of the best” — but hey, everyone’s idea of delicious is different.
“Like all opinions, my reviews are just that,” he said with a shrug. “As we say in Hebrew, ‘On tastes and smells, there is nothing to argue about.’”