A cut above

The Lion’s Den is not your typical sports bar.

Sports bars are usually associated with large TV screens, beer and fast food. The latter is not the case with The Lion’s Den, Hagov Bar and Grill, according to co-owners Gani Meidad and Yonah Mishaan.
Meidad and Mishaan had a dream of opening a sports bar in Jerusalem. Mishaan is the coach of the women’s national flag football team, and Meidad plays for the Big Blue Lions football team.
After Shiloh-born and raised Meidad returned from living in the States for three years, working and saving money, he and Mishaan researched locations for over a year until they found a 120-year-old building in Nahalat Shiva that had been a bar for five and a half years. The owner wanted to sell, so they bought it, fixed it up and opened The Lion’s Den on February 21.
Chef Shai Kapuya, 30, grew up in Jerusalem, son of a Moroccan mother and a Turkish father. After serving in the Golani Brigade, he worked as a security guard. Then he decided he wanted to make a change.
“I fell in love with cooking and cooking for myself. People told me I had talent,” says Kapuya.
He enrolled in the culinary course at Hadassah College in 2006 and graduated the following year. While in school and after, he worked at Hahatzer, a Mediterranean restaurant in the Old Railway Station compound.
In 2008 he went to work at the upscale Scala Restaurant in the David Citadel Hotel, in charge of entrees. In 2009 he moved to Angelica, a kosher fine dining restaurant on Rehov Shatz.
Before Hagov opened, Meidad and Mishaan worked with Kapuya to develop the menu. “We worked together to make American dishes,” says Meidad.
“These were not my specialty,” says Kapuya, “but I did some research.”
After several months cooking American style, he says he likes it even more. “I think in Israel there is a stigma about American food because we just don’t do it right. Israelis think American food is just McDonald’s, and I thought like that, too. But when I came to Hagov and got to know the food, I began to make it in other ways.”
“Burgers, Buffalo wings, club sandwiches – now our customers say they’re great and they love them!” he says.
What makes this sports bar unique is definitely the food.
“In terms of fresh food, I try to make it more in the style of the restaurants that I worked in, not bar food,” explains Kapuya. “For example, we buy fresh meat for the hamburgers and grind it ourselves. I make all the dressings from scratch, not canned or processed. We also think we have the only authentic Buffalo wings in Jerusalem,” he asserts.
Kapuya is very proud of what he’s doing. “This time it’s my kitchen. I’m taking center stage. I choose the menu, and I select the ingredients.”
What’s on the menu? The first thing you notice is the Lion hamburger (350 gr.) for NIS 65 and the Lioness (250 gr.) for NIS 50. These are served on a sesame seed bun with a choice of sweet potato fries, French fries, hash browns or onion rings, tastefully presented on a platter with lettuce, slices of tomato, red onion and dill pickle slices.
But then you read further: steak, real American Buffalo wings, roast beef, salads, soups, appetizers, daily specials, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages – all currently on the menu, which will be changed from time to time. There is also Lebo’s hot dog, named for Steve Leibowitz, chief editor IBA News in English and founder and president of American Football in Israel. Another special item is Shai’s Salad, a beautiful blend of Romaine lettuce, green apples and sugared crushed pistachio nuts in a vinaigrette.
The front room of Hagov, whose original stone walls and arches add to the warm atmosphere, has dark wooden tables and chairs that can accommodate 16 and a bar that seats nine. There is also a back room and an open garden.
The name of the restaurant comes from Meidad, who called it TheLion’s Den because he plays for the Lions. “It felt nice to have thatname. And we added hagov, which is Hebrew for ‘thelion’s den.’” As the season goes on, the owners would like to have thebar be open for lunch. During NFL season, they plan to offer all-daybreakfast.
Kapuya would like The Lion’s Den to be a place wherepeople come “especially for the food and come again.” He would alsolike to open earlier and to work more and sell more food. “I want tosee the kitchen grow so it won’t be a one-man kitchen.”
TheLion’s Den, Hagov Bar and Grill, is located at 5 Rehov Yoel Salomon atthe foot of Rehov Shamai. It is open Sunday through Thursday, 7 p.m. tothe last customer; Saturday evening from two hours after Shabbat endsuntil the last customer and is closed on Friday. For reservations ormore information, call 052-870-9993. Kosher.