A pitmaster is a person who has honed his or her craft in the art of meat cooking, be it barbecuing, grilling, smoking, or you name it. Started in 2019 as a Facebook group by Israelis sharing their ideas and insights on everything meat related, Pitmaster exploded and morphed into restaurants serving what is described as a “feast show.”
The Pitmaster restaurants’ modus operandi is a three-hour, epic, theatrical food-network-type show – displayed live on large screens in venue – where the clients are the extras. Its branches in Petah Tikva and Alonim are safe havens for meat connoisseurs who revel in the Argentine parrilla grill and Texan smoker grill, and for casual diners who enjoy the vibrant Middle Eastern Israeli party or mishte.
The newest addition to the Pitmaster family is the Cinema City Jerusalem branch, inaugurated on July 31, with a bold move towards mehadrin kashrut. At its grand opening, it introduces the five new pitmasters running the show. Each one leads one food service daily except Fridays (with two on Thursdays, at 6 pm and 9:15 pm), with a different menu and meal depending on the individual pitmaster.
The one thing that you can expect every night is the restaurant’s fascinating concept, that separates it from others in the country. You’re seated on long, family-sized tables, and next to you are complete strangers, with whom you spend the next three hours breaking bread and sharing a table.
Luckily our table companions are lovely. They are a haredi family from New York who haven’t skipped the small print in the reservation specifying that we are free to bring our own drinks – as only water, house red wine, and Heineken are included in the NIS 270 all-you-can-eat deal. They share the sodas they brought along.
A seven-course meat meal at Cinema City Jerusalem
There are seven courses, 1,000 grams of meat, and one favela. The centerpiece of the evening’s episode of the show is Zvi Steinfeld, a 33-year-old chef who hails from Toronto. Grabbing the bull by the horns and taking full command of his wireless mic and his audience, you’d think he was a veteran. But Steinfeld only started cooking after he made aliyah three years ago. He says the atmosphere of the Pitmaster feasts “blows my mind every night.”
“You’re getting a whole variety of meats, you’re getting a show, you’re getting a party, you’re getting alcohol, that’s what makes the difference,” he tells The Jerusalem Post.
“My favorite part is meeting the people, seeing their reactions. We’re here for people to have a good time.”
The first course is a shepherd’s pie with Pitmaster twists – a creamy mix of potatoes and sweet potatoes, hiding scarlet red and deeply flavored, smoked, ground beef, served with caramelized onions and a red wine sauce. A great and character-revealing introduction. It is served with bread, tahini, and cabbage. IN addition the green salad and beets that adorn the table when we enter the restaurant, these extras feel rather subversive and unnecessary.
We are then served one of Pitmaster’s flagship dishes – Oshpelo rice, a dish hailing from the Bukharan kitchen, with lamb breast and a touch of fat that adds layers, as well as pulled ontrib (chuck steak), smoked for 12 hours. The dish could use some more spice, but is tender and juicy.
It is then that I find out about the participation part of the feast, as I am called up to the counter, to help prepare their “showarma” (a combination of “show” and “shawarma”). With all eyes and cameras on me, Zvi lays down three gargantuan pieces of ossobucco and chicken skewers.
I am given what is advertised as a “very difficult” task, that of pulling the bones out of the meat, punching the meat with the bone itself, and cutting, slashing, chopping, and thrashing away with a sickle knife fit for a 15th century guillotine. I am becoming one with the shawarma – all the while being bombarded with pickled onions and parsley.
The following dishes are a soft, slowly smoked, and reverse-seared entrecote with charred cabbage and goma (Japanese tahini sauce); asado with chimichurri’ tortillas with chicken thighs that has spent a whole day being smoked; lamb neck (with the spine, a juicy, pate-like delicacy, intact), and as a pseudo-dessert, a succulent tataki sirloin steak with toffee sauce and pistachio crumble.
A welcome 10-minute palate-cleaning intermission comes in the form of a watermelon granita with arak. For the sweet ending, we are offered fresh watermelon, yeast cake, coconut and pistachio cubs, and coffee and tea.
Throughout the experience, the waiting staff are magnificent, kind, gracious, and know all the lyrics and dance moves to every single song that was played. The playlist is amazing, by the way. It seems like they genuinely enjoy their job. Who wouldn’t?
Noga Erez’s “End of the Road” plays at the end as we all give a heartwarming round of applause to the staff and to ourselves. The food could be a little more refined at times, but the experience you get coming to Pitmaster, even more so now with its inclusion of mehadrin, is unlike any other you could find in Israel, and a must-do for any foodie. Just don’t eat anything for at least a few weeks in advance!
PitmasterCinema City JerusalemTel: 073-277-7777Kashrut: MehadrinNIS 240 per person in August and NIS 250 after that
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.