As we have been reporting in recent weeks, American entrepreneurs have been making an impressive showing when it comes to home delivery of restaurant quality food during this pandemic. However, at least one has been carving out a popular niche here for nearly a decade already. Naty Ashkenazi arrived from Los Angeles, founded hamburger joint Vitrina on Ibn Gvirol Street in 2011, and has experienced singular success.
In actuality, the restaurant started off as a sausage grill, featuring all sorts of artisan sausages, hence the name Vitrina, for the refrigerated display cases showing off the wares. Israelis prefer hamburgers, however, so burgers eventually took over the menu to the point where the sausages are no longer available, despite their frustratingly tantalizing ghostly presence on the printed menu.
The decision to focus on quality hamburgers was vindicated; Vitrina’s burgers have garnered accolades in most Israeli media outlets, even winning Magazine Food’s top prize for Best Burger in 2020.
Perhaps the best measure of Vitrina’s excellence, though, is the number of customers clamoring to order. Ashkenazy had to expand the business, opening a second, larger branch on Lilienblum Street. And when I arrived for an early dinner, there was a line of customers extending out the door.
The menu at no-frills Vitrina Ibn Gvirol – in the baffling format of English-only names of food items with Hebrew-only descriptions of the dish – is extremely basic and straightforward. There is, thankfully, an online complete English-language delivery menu for handy cross-reference. (Note: the latter menu reflects the slightly different – and augmented – Lilienblum branch offerings, and an all-English printed menu is in the works.)
Not surprisingly, burgers lead everything off, in four variations (NIS 40-45, NIS 58-63 when ordered in a combo meal with fries): the Butler, Butler Cheese, Homestate and Mayor. There are also two chicken entrées (NIS 35-40), and two “Son of a Bun” vegetarian/vegan burgers (NIS 40).
The Butler burgers are promoted as the best-sellers, so our first order was the version topped with Gouda cheese, arugula and pickles. We quickly concluded that the lavish praise is well-deserved: The thick beef burger and half-sour pickles – sandwiched in a soft bun generously moistened with onion jam and aioli – was juicy, smoky and bursting with flavor. The very thin slice of melted cheese probably added its own undertone, even if its overall contribution was minimal.
The Nashville Dirty Chicken sandwich, meanwhile, was no less a pleasant surprise: a hefty, schnitzel-like steak of white meat chicken expertly seasoned to provide a pleasantly spicy kick, even in its mildest incarnation (there are four levels of spiciness, culminating in very hot). In addition, a layer of good, old-fashioned American coleslaw and sliced pickle serve as a balancing counterpoint to the dry Dixie seasoning.
Finally, I sampled the vegan burger: a fat quinoa-lentils patty studded with hazelnuts and enveloping a center of mushroom stuffed with (vegan) cheese, plus roasted cherry tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, Thousand Island dressing and date-honey mustard. This is very different from other local vegan burgers – especially with the startling but welcome crunch from the nuts – but ultimately tasty, filling and eminently satisfactory.
It is important to mention that virtually every order was for a combo meal, starring Vitrina’s signature mix of shoestring French and hand-cut sweet-potato fries. Sprinkled with a unique seasoning mix of dried parsley, garlic powder and freshly grated lemon zest, and accompanied by terrific, colorful dipping sauces – magenta beet ketchup swirled with roasted garlic aioli – this addictive treat is clearly another major draw for the small chain with the big audience.
Vitrina serves no desserts, but sells three exotically flavored lemonades crafted in-house.
36 Ibn Gvirol St., Tel Aviv. Phone: (03) 696-0304.
Online English menu: wolt.com/en/isr/tel-aviv/restaurant/vitrina
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.