Up in Smoke

Yitzhak Fox honed his meat smoking skills in South America and together with Naor Parientie has opened a sandwich bar for meat lovers in Beersheba's Old City.

If the logo of a green, seemingly grinning Venus’s flytrap doesn’t set it apart from all other cafes in Beersheba’s Old City, then surely the name does – “Carnivore.” 
“It’s not an English word,” says Naor Parientie, co-owner of the popular establishment. “It’s Spanish. Okay, it probably should be ‘carnivoro,’ but nobody at all would get that.”
Parientie came up with the name himself, which isn’t too surprising since the idea for a smoked-meat sandwich shop was his, too. “I was looking in the dictionary to find a smart word for what we do, and came across that. I decided it was perfect – that’s who eats here: carnivores. Then I asked a friend to do the logo, and that’s what he came up with – a stylized Venus’s flytrap that looks like it’s enjoying itself, eating meat. That’s the whole point, right there.”
Carnivore came into existence as a spin-off of a now-defunct restaurant that Yitzhak Fox, Parientie’s partner, opened in the BIG shopping center.  “It’s a long story,” jokes Fox. “You can see I’m laughing, so I won’t cry – as my grandmother used to say: That’s why we have two shoulders, one to laugh on, the other for crying. 
“I started in the restaurant business many years ago, learned everything I could about smoking meat, and had a very nice restaurant in Ramat Gan.  Then some businessmen from Beersheba came to me and encouraged me to open a restaurant in Beersheba. “You have to come to Beersheba!’ they told me. ‘If you want to expand your business, that’s the place to come!’ 
‘So I came. I opened Don Leon Asado Grill in the BIG center. But instead of growing, I got a whole lot smaller.”  Fox shakes his head. “I’ve lost a lot of money in Beersheba – but maybe we’ll make it back now, with Carnivore.”
Open just since January 1, 2009, Carnivore attracts a lot of attention in Beersheba for several reasons. Not only are the smoked meats beyond compare, but it’s a friendly place, friendly for the ladies who lunch at noon, for families during the dinner hour, for students who want a good place to eat and socialize in the wee hours of the morning. And it’s especially welcoming to soldiers looking for good food at a reasonable price all day long.
“This place was Naor’s idea,” Fox says. “He was my manager at Don Leon. We were serving smoked-meat meals, and one day he came to me and said: ‘Why don’t we start putting the meat into sandwiches? It would be really good like that.’
So when things got tough for us at Big – the rents were very high, and all the shops close at 10 or 11 at night, which wasn’t good for our kind of business – we decided to open a sandwich place as partners in the Old City instead.”
“It’s been a good decision,” Fox grins. “The rents are lower, and young people hang out here all the time. There’s a whole little cluster of cafes and restaurants toward the end of the pedestrian mall, all different kinds of foods, and some of them stay open until 5 or 6 am, because that’s what their customers want. We open at noon and we’re usually closed by 2 am, but the low rents, plus being able to stay open late has helped us turn a profit.”
Up to now, the main menu item has been sandwiches – but such sandwiches! Like a baguette stuffed with your choice of three different cuts of kosher beef, chicken or turkey breast, spiced up with the sauce of your choice.
But Parientie says he is planning several new additions.
“A vegetarian salad, for one thing. Sometimes two people come in – one wants meat, the other’s a vegetarian. So now we’ll have a nice salad, too. We’re also adding two different kinds of potatoes, and maybe even fried chicken – we’re still working on that. We’re also increasing our by-reservation menu.  If customers call a couple of days ahead, we can smoke any kind of meat they want – a whole turkey, chicken, lamb, anything so long as it’s kosher. That’s in addition to our famous smoked salmon.”
The smoked salmon is dangerous, Fox claims. “You have to be really careful about it. It’s completely addictive. Once you’ve had our smoked salmon, you’ll never want anything else again. We tried offering it as a regular menu item, but because the fish is expensive and it doesn’t have a long shelf life, we now make it by reservation only.
“So you have to call a couple of days ahead and then we’ll have it waiting for you. It’s one of our big sellers.”
The two partners bring different talents to the operation. Fox, 56, hails from Jerusalem and moved to Beersheba just three years ago when he opened the Don Leon restaurant. Parientie, 25, was born in Beersheba and grew up in the Ramot neighborhood; his was one of the first families to move there. Together they built their own smokehouse, a sizable wood-paneled enclosure fitted throughout with spit rods to hold meat of all kinds.
“We smoke with wood from citrus trees, mostly orange trees – not chips, but with whole logs,” says Fox, who honed his smoking expertise in Argentina. “We have a unique way of smoking, a blend of Argentinean and Brazilian methods.
“To smoke the meat, we roll it first, which keeps in all the juices. That’s why it’s so moist and tender. How long does meat smoke? Depends on what it is, but  one and a half hours up to four hours, or a little more.
“All our meat comes from a single supplier I’ve worked with for years. I don’t trust anyone else.  He delivers two or three times a week, and we’re smoking something just about every day. Now, as we expand our catering business, we’ll be smoking even more.”
The catering option began when a friend asked if the partners could supply 50 sandwich meals for a business gathering. “We could and we did,” Parientie says. “Then other people asked, and the word got around. We can handle up to 100 lunches at a time – we had to redesign the restaurant a little to accommodate that.
“This building had been a pizza place before we came, and we hadn’t done much with the interior until recently. Now we’ve made better use of the space with a horseshoe counter where more people can sit. Then we added some space at the back to accommodate a larger kitchen preparation area so we could do catered meals. Each meal includes a sandwich, two salads, potatoes and a drink.”
Not everything the partners tried has worked. 
“We had chorizo on the menu, but took it off,” Parientie says. “It wasn’t terribly popular, and we needed to use that special smoker for the salmon.  We also had a cut of beef that was very similar to another cut. We discovered that most people couldn’t tell the difference, so we made our lives simpler and took one off. 
“What’s our biggest seller?  Surprisingly enough, the entrecote. It’s the most expensive thing on the menu, but that’s what most customers want.”
What’s the best thing that’s happened so far? “I’m still waiting – ithasn’t happened yet,” Fox jokes again. “But really, we’re doing finehere in the Old City. It was slow at the beginning, but we’ve beengrowing steadily. If you think about it, it’s probably better that way,to start small and grow steadily rather than grow very fast and thenslack off.
“What I love is when people come for the first time.They’re always a little afraid, you know? They don’t really know whatto expect, with the name ‘Carnivore’ and all. So they order, and then Ilove to watch them take their first bite. That’s really fun. 
“‘Wow!’, they go, and then tell me: ‘That’s really good.  Very tasty!’ 
That’s a good moment.”
Carnivore is kosher and located at Rehov Keren Kayemet 26 in Beersheba’s Old City. 1-700-700-405