(photo credit: Courtesy)
Five years ago, the garden outside the 19th-century Templer building in Baka sat empty next to the Little House in Baka guest house. In the fall of 2004, Ami Tal and Motti Albo opened the coffee shop Cafe Katan in the garden spot. After two years they changed it to a dairy restaurant, which operated for a year and a half.
Last year, Polly was born there as an "Italian chef" dairy restaurant, although the chef isn't Italian.
Eli Keshet, the 34-year-old Israeli-born chef, got to Polly via a circuitous route. Born in Beersheba, he grew up in Kibbutz Lahavot Habashan, at the foot of the Golan, was a paratrooper in the army, and then decided to travel "a little bit in the world."
He says, "I found myself in India - the first place the cuisine called me."
From mid-1998 to 2001, he ran a restaurant and guest house in India. "I was cooking free-spirit food," he says.
He left to travel in Europe, stopped in Italy and "fell in love with the cuisine there. I realized I wanted to take on food as a profession," he says. During his stay, he traveled with people and saw himself in the kitchen.
He returned to Israel to find a wife, whom he met at a Rainbow Gathering, a month-long annual outdoor gathering of Bohemian-style people communing with nature. During the month, people volunteered to work in the kitchen, and Keshet found himself running the mainstream kitchen.
Returning to Jerusalem after his travels, he married in 2004. Keshet and his wife have two children, aged five and one, as well as a 10-year-old from his wife's first marriage.
Keshet also worked as a chef in a private home for six months. Then he was the assistant chef at Chante, a restaurant on Yoel Salomon in Nahalat Shiva.
In 2003 he found Sergio, "my teacher, my guru, my second father," the man (now in his 70s) who brought pasta and pizza to Jerusalem in the 1970s. Sergio also owned Mama Mia on Keren Hayesod in the 1980s. Keshet joined him at Chaverim shel Sergio on Rehov Ya'avetz off Rehov Jaffa.
"I was a student of his, but I ran everything," comments Keshet.
Encouraged by what he had learned, Keshet opened his own restaurant, Belle Luna, opposite Moshav Tzur Hadassah, where he created his own menu. "I learned what the business is when it is yours. I would go to Mahaneh Yehuda every day for vegetables and fresh fish, working 12 to 14 hours a day."
By 2007 he realized the importance of "location, location, location," so he decided to leave his restaurant and move on. He went to work at the Bar Kochba Restaurant in the artist's colony at Hutzot Hayotzer. At the same time, he also did some catering on the side.
Then he and his wife and children went off to India for five months "to see if it was possible to change my life and live there. It was nice, but I realized that the children needed a different education, so we came back."
Upon his return to Jerusalem a year and a half ago, Keshet heard that the Polly restaurant was looking for a chef, so he started working there.
The kosher mehadrin restaurant serves pasta (which Keshet makes himself), fish and salads. Soon it will serve an "evening" business lunch, offer more choice of pasta sauces and have an antipasto bar.
The name "Polly" was chosen by the restaurant's owners because they liked the sound of it. On its logo, Polly is a heavy-set man wearing a classic fedora.
The restaurant has one room in the enclosed patio with a bar, which seats about 100, with tablecloths and elegant wineglasses on each table. Down a few steps in the former cistern is a lounge for 30 with candles on the tables and a fireplace.
Polly is located at 1 Yehuda in Baka. It is open from 1 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, closed Friday except for private parties, and open Saturday evening one hour after Shabbat ends until midnight or 1 a.m. Tel: 671 4888.