Dining Review: What would Jesus eat?

I was hardly expecting to find a sophisticated, stylish resto-bar in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus and the Arab capital of Israel.

nazareth bar 224.88 (photo credit: Orit Arfa)
nazareth bar 224.88
(photo credit: Orit Arfa)
I was hardly expecting to find a sophisticated, stylish resto-bar in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus and the Arab capital of Israel where I arrived as part of a private press tour of the myriad Christian sites dominating the city. But not far from the grotto where Mary is said to have lived and the synagogue where Jesus is said to have prayed, lies the totally hip and contemporary Sudfeh. It had been two weeks since the attack on Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, which triggered public concerns regarding the Arab "fifth column"-but the only columns I saw were sleek wooden ones supporting a colorful, well-stocked, arch-shaped bar. Large stone walls of the multi-level space cast an ancient shadow while the chandeliers with frilled shades gave off the sense of a brothel. I could have pictured Sudfeh in some European metropolis. Another shocker for those who might erroneously imagine Nazareth as a backward Arab city: Sudfeh is owned by two women, both named Mary. Mary Ann Durr, the daughter of a Dutch mother and Nazarene father, used to work as a graphic artist under Mary Abu Jaber, a Nazareth native who organized municipal cultural events. Both decided it was time for them to break out of their routine careers and create a place where they themselves would want to hang out. They came across an old, dumpy Ottoman home. After gutting it completely, they applied their artistic flair to transform it into what it is today. They called the place 'Sudfeh,' Arabic for coincidence, because that is how they view their endeavor. The customers, on the whole, were attractive and stylishly dressed. It was difficult to gauge the exact demographics in Sudfeh, although I did notice one guy wearing a cross. I wondered how a bar could be sustained in a city whose population is split two-thirds Muslim, one-third Christian. After all, Islam forbids alcohol. But as my Israeli-Arab-atheist-Muslim guide put it, "Without Muslims you have no bars." Nazareth has a decently sized secular Muslim population and Sudfeh is the place to see and be seen in the secular Arab world. That night the mayor of a nearby Arab village was present. I didn't hear much Hebrew, but I was told that Jews from surrounding towns and even from the country's center make the pilgrimage here, especially on the weekends. The cute and cheerful servers and bartenders all wore green leprechaun hats in honor of St. Patrick's Day, which they celebrated a few days late-but who's counting? The owners hired an Irish band for the night who added good cheer to the place. Sudfeh has obviously invested in the sound system; it is the only bar to offer Arab Karaoke night in Israel. Sudfeh sees itself as a cultural center. As such, it hosts theme nights once a month, and on April 30, the Maries will inaugurate an art gallery on the premises with the works of Nazarene Karima Abboud, the first Palestinian female photographer. As a fully functioning restaurant by day and night, Sudfeh invests heavily to offer a creative fusion menu. The chef, from the nearby Arab city of Sakhnin, prepares a tempting variety of vegetarian, seafood and meat dishes with an Arabic and European touch. Italian food makes up a small part of the menu. Grandma's Salad (NIS 32) served with hardened labaneh balls was one of the tastiest Arabic salads that I've tried. The Sudfeh salad (NIS 36) served with mushrooms, sprouts, dried figs and apples more than satisfied with its blend of sweet and salty. The jumbo shrimp tempura (NIS 38) deep fried in beer batter, was meaty and perfectly crisped - a highly recommended finger food. The entrecote in goose breast wine sauce (NIS 78) had a unique smoky flavor but may have been a bit too experimental for my somewhat conservative palate. Probably should've gone for the classic steak. By the end of the night, people got up and danced, working off their food by doing the locomotion. And when the band was ready to call it a night, everyone kept shouting, "more, more, more." Sudfeh definitely left me wanting more, and next time I'm in northern Israel, I'll be sure to stop there. Sudfeh is located at 908/35 Mary's Well and open on Sunday from 6 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. and Monday through Saturday from noon until 1:30 a.m. Reservations are recommended on weekends. For more information call (04) 656-6611 or visit www.rol.co.il/sites/sudfeh.