Twenty years ago, writer David Ehrlich noticed a problem.

Jerusalem, his hometown, had already produced literary greats such as S.Y. Agnon, A.B.Yehoshua, Yehuda Amichai and Amos Oz, yet there was no central place for writers to gather, discuss and, most importantly, drink coffee.

Ehrlich began brewing the idea for his coffeehouse/restaurant/ bookstore Tmol Shilshom while traveling in the US, where the concept was starting to catch on.

Named after Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon’s novel Tmol Shilshom (Only Yesterday), it opened in 1994 in the Nahalat Shiva area of downtown Jerusalem.

Though he claims to be neither businessman nor chef, Ehrlich’s venture has been praised over the years as one of the top spots in Jerusalem for cafe style dining and literary entertainment.

On a Friday morning, my dining partner and I followed the signs down a narrow alleyway and made our way up the stairs into the indoor area on the right-hand side. Tmol Shilshom’s classic stone facade, a key feature of the 130-year-old building, is illustrative of the city’s original architecture.

After sitting down at a cozy table for two in the corner and reading some of Ehrlich’s own writing on the famed customdesigned and ever-changing place mats, we went to explore the breakfast buffet. It features a varied spread of fresh, locally inspired dishes, fruits and pastries, all laid out tapas style on Middle Easterninspired tapestries and dishes.

We filled our plates with a number of side dishes, such as couscous tossed with grilled tofu, dried cranberries, sliced toasted almonds and tangy fresh herb dressing that balanced the sweetness of the cranberries. The salmon, served cold and coated in a sauce of honey, dates, cream and a little mustard, was an instant favorite (and could have been a meal on its own). While sipping on cappuccinos, we nibbled on other fresh salads, cheeses, fruits, pasta and sweet and savory pastries. The lasagna was tempting, but we held off, not ready for such a heavy dish so early in the morning.

Though the buffet is definitely worthwhile at NIS 85 for all you can eat, our favorite dish came straight off the menu: the shakshuka baladi, a masterfully prepared Israeli favorite (perhaps one of the best shakshuka dishes we have ever had!). In addition to the traditional eggs poached in a spicy tomato-pepper-onion sauce, the baladi comes with eggplant, roasted peppers, goat cheese and a generous serving of fresh bread (NIS 44).

Much of the menu has been updated in the past few months thanks to chef Silvio Nadel, a newcomer to the Tmol Shilshom family. Nadel, who made the most dramatic changes to the menu in the past 20 years, is committed to “real Jerusalem food” and has introduced fresh, local ingredients, more vegetarian options and new pastries such as lachuch roll, a Yemenite flatbread rolled up with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and peppers (NIS 39), and krass, an Arabic bread with olive oil, onion, feta and za’atar served with beets and pear and Roquefort salad (NIS 59).

We finished the meal with fruit shakes (NIS 25) and a nice conversation with Ehrlich and his son, who readily showed us his newest karate move and pointed out the dessert named after him – the Nebo and Ofri pie, a Belgian pie filled with chocolate and hazelnut cream combined with nougat cream (NIS 33), which we vowed to try on our next visit.

Tmol Shilshom rightly deserves its reputation for having one of the best breakfasts in town, certainly now that chef Nadel has put added his own Jerusalem-inspired recipes and serious commitment to the freshest ingredients. As to Ehrlich’s contributions to the menu: “I can’t even cook an omelet, and we were voted one of the best breakfasts in the world!” he laughs.

In addition to a topnotch breakfast spread, Tmol Shilshom has a full lunch and dinner menu complete with dessert, alcoholic beverages, not to mention the occasional literary or musical event.

The writer was a guest of the restaurant.

Tmol Shilshom Kosher 5 Yoel Salomon Street, Jerusalem Tel: (02) 623-2758; 052-280- 5555; www.tmo-shilshom.co.il Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Closed on Shabbat.



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