A quartet of Israeli restaurateurs with a love for down home American soul food have established a local miniempire of smoked meats and southern US comfort food: Hook Deluxe Charcuterie and Smokehouse (retail and catering); Truck Deluxe casual food, near Dizengoff Center; and Pundak Deluxe, an unpretentious barbecue restaurant in the heart of Jaffa.
Now, four years after opening its doors, Pundak Deluxe has acquired a new “American iron” meat smoker and made wholesale changes to its menu. Fortunately, though, the restaurant has remained true to its original motto: “We cook our meat low and slow – [and] use only natural wood.”
It must be said, however, that first impressions certainly do not portend a fine dining experience.
Pundak Deluxe epitomizes no-frills: All the tables are bare wood, and the few indoor seats are stools (only a few with backs). Most of the seating is outside, and the metal folding chairs are not exactly inviting. The heaters are nonetheless efficient, and we were graciously offered comfortable blankets to keep us warm.
The actual menus couldn’t be plainer. Single typewritten pages are attached to clipboards. One page is devoted to food, the other to alcohol: cocktails, imported and domestic wines by the glass and bottle, and imported and domestic beers, on tap and in bottles.
There are five specialty cocktails (NIS 42-48), and they are different from the ones I sampled on my previous visit. The ones we tried – the Daiquiri Plantation and the Pimm’s & Ale – were loaded with garnishes and quite refreshing.
The new food menu has been drastically streamlined and now comprises only four sections: Smoked Meat; Sausages; Sandwiches; and Sides and More.
Pulled pork and shredded chicken are now available only as sandwiches, while a hamburger is a new addition.
The category most affected by the streamlining is the smoked meats. Where numerous cuts of beef were once offered, now there is only brisket and short ribs. Gone also are the turkey and duck, leaving chicken (and the occasional goose special) as the only surviving fowl.
The most radical elimination of all, however, was the baby back ribs. Not only were they one of the best main dishes on the former menu, but it is hard to imagine any self-respecting barbecue joint without baby back ribs among its featured dishes. And it’s not as if there are many other places where Israelis can find them. The sole consolation is that at least spare ribs are still on the menu.
The best way to enjoy a meal at Pundak Deluxe – and the best value – is to order one of the combo platters, either for one (NIS 79) or two (NIS 149). The larger combo platter includes a choice of two smoked meats (of the four on the menu), two sausages, and three sides, along with sliced pickled onion and jalapeno pepper.
For our combo platter, we ordered the brisket and the spare ribs, which came with lightning speed, served on paper-lined metal trays. The two slabs of brisket were thick and flavorful, needing only a squeeze of the zesty barbecue sauce on the table to evoke memories of Texas.
The three (pork) spare ribs in butter sauce glaze, meanwhile, were tender, juicy and positively succulent. They are the primary reason that, despite the lamentable jettisoning of baby backs, Pundak Deluxe remains near the top of local BBQ joints.
Together with the thin slices of distinctive gouda and thyme sausage and surprisingly mild chorizo, there was ample meat for two. What was missing, however, was corn bread, which used to come along with the meat. What made the lack of this classic barbecue companion inexplicable is the fact that corn bread actually appears on the menu of the bar next door, which is under the same ownership as Pundak Deluxe.
Upon request, we were served Parker House rolls, the ultimate goyishe white dinner roll.
Our three sides were also familiar accompaniments to barbecue. The baked beans here, flecked with tiny morsels of brisket, are called bean stew and are considerably less sweet than most American counterparts. The sweet potato fries, meanwhile, pleasantly crisp on the outside, were addictive.
The only disappointment among our sides was the coleslaw, whose recipe has been revised and now pales in comparison to the previous version. We were also disheartened to learn that the mac and cheese is not considered a combo side, so it incurs an extra charge.
Only two desserts (NIS 35) are listed on the menu (down from the previous four). We ordered both of them – the New York cheesecake and the crack pie. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when, with no warning, we were served chocolate nemesis instead of the cheesecake.
There was no explanation and no chance to finally taste the cheesecake I had failed to order the time before. That is not to say that the chocolate dessert was not satisfying, if that is what you’re in the mood for. The crack pie, on the other hand, was a dismayingly far cry from the previous decadently rich version.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
Pundak Deluxe Not kosher 7 Olei Zion Street, Jaffa Tel: (03) 523-3186