Bagel Café Jerusalem.
(photo credit: PR)
Tomer Touti, who owns and runs Bagel Café on Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street with his wife, Shimrit, is a lawyer by training.
“I studied law after my army service and worked in restaurants to support myself,” he told us on a recent visit to his restaurant one balmy evening. “I realized it wasn’t for me – I was much happier in the kitchens than in the law courts,” said the 37-year-old, who opened his business in 2012.
In the large airy restaurant, surrounded by lush greenery visible through the glass walls, a mixed crowd sat and enjoyed the large variety of food on offer. The place is kosher le’mehadrin and attracts the Orthodox crowd, but many nonreligious people enjoy the friendly atmosphere and original food as well.
While bagels feature in the name – there are nine varieties to choose from – don’t be misled into thinking that this is just a bagel joint. Full breakfasts, served all day (NIS 108 a couple), pasta, fish and quiches are also available. The menu offers an astonishing array of dishes for what at first sight looks like a delicatessen.
Touti sat down with us to tell his story while Nofar, the manageress, brought the first course – a selection of dips, together with most of the nine bagel choices, all made on the premises by the owners. There were about five choices of dips, all very tasty, arranged on a long narrow platter.
The smoked trout in a creamy cheese mixture was outstanding, but all the dips we tried were very good, combining unusual ingredients in an original product. For example, there was cream cheese mixed with smoked eggplant; Bulgarit with pesto; and a mix of high-quality tinned tuna with chopped vegetables. Also served were good marinated herring pieces and some smoked salmon, which was a little too salty for my taste. (NIS 56 a platter.) Having allayed the hunger pangs with the dips and a judicious pick at some of the bagels – the onion was especially good – we advanced to the main course.
There are several fish choices, such as a delicious fresh salmon fillet, cooked to melt-in-the mouth perfection, served with cherry tomato confit and baked sweet potato slices (NIS 88). St. Peter’s fish is also on the menu, but we declined in favor of tasting some of the salads.
A huge bowl of what Touti calls “crunch patata” arrived at the table.
This was a combination of some fairly conventional salad ingredients (lettuce, tomato), but the bulk of the salad was far from ordinary. It was full of strips of lightly fried sweet potato chips, green beans and 5% Bulgarit cheese, topped with a mix of nuts and seeds. The piquant dressing was slightly sweet and spicy, and Touti was reluctant to reveal the ingredients.
“This is one of our most popular dishes,” he confided.
Another best-seller is the Diner-style Bagel, which consists of a buttered bagel baked in the oven with a fried egg embedded in it, served with chunky Portobello mushrooms and fried onion. On the side is an Israeli salad, whipped cream cheese, salsa and pesto. This was real comfort food and a very successful combination of flavors.
Touti also insisted that we try the lasagna, which is homemade “from start to finish,” he assured us. The fine leaves of pasta are enveloped in a delicious tomato sauce, filled with mushrooms and topped with grated Emek cheese. Definitely a crowd pleaser.
For dessert, we chose the cheesecake. A very generous triangle arrived garnished with little cubes of dried fruit, again entirely homemade. It was very good. The cheese was 15%, which is a good compromise that doesn’t affect flavor or texture, and it was not overly sweet.
The Zanussi coffee that ended our meal was excellent. Touti insisted that I take home the unfinished food and added a lemon tart, which proved to be out of this world.
Bagel Café is open from 6:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. or midnight. It does takeaway, all-day breakfast and catering for life cycle celebrations.
Hard work and dedication, as well as a real talent for cooking, ensure that Bagel Café is firmly established on the culinary map of Jerusalem.
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.
46 Emek Refaim St., Jerusalem Tel: (02) 5877877