A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
There’s something about this election eve in Jerusalem that’s making me crave comfort food. (Or maybe, I’m just exhausted after a crazy few weeks and desperate for some simple unhealthy food.) Usually when I’m in this mood all I want to eat is pizza and/or hamburgers. Good hamburgers are pretty easy to come by; good pizza, not so much. I am from New York; I am very particular about what constitutes good pizza. I am referring here to the non-kosher kind made by Italian (and Mexican) Americans. When people tell me they’ve had good pizza in Israel, the first question I usually ask them is whether they grew up eating non-kosher pizza. The answer is usually no.
When I first moved to Israel, I would not touch the pizza here. However, in the intervening nine years I’ve kinda sorta forgotten what Capriccio’s tastes like, so There are pizzas here I’ve come to like, if not love. I’m talking here about traditional pizza pies, not fancy specialty pizzas. Here are my two favorites:
American Pie Pizza: Located on Derech Beit Lechem near the corner of Yehuda, American Pie is my neighborhood pizza joint. Despite its name, American Pie seems to be run by French people. No matter, the pizza is good enough. The secret, I believe, that other stores don’t use, is good cheese. Regular Israeli pizza generally uses yellow cheese. Not good. They also get the cheese to sauce ratio right and will give out extra sauce on the side. The main thing separating America Pie from Capriccio’s is the crust. American Pie usually has available plain, mushroom, olive, onion, spicy tomato, and pesto/goat cheese.
Big Apple Pizza: Big Apple has an older branch downtown, with another branch on Ben Zakai. For a short spell they had a third branch on Emek Refaim. When that happened, I would eat there for lunch more frequently than I care to admit. When I first came to Israel, it was Big Apple that first turned me off to Israeli pizza, but I’ve since come around. Not quite as good as American Pie, but a good second choice.
As long as we’re talking about everyday foods that are commonly delicious (and cheap) in New York and less good and more expensive in Jerusalem, let’s talk about bagels. My bagel trajectory has much the same pattern – when I first came here I refused to eat the offerings, then I got used to them even though nothing can replace the taste of home, to the extent that whenever we have visitors from New Jersey we get a delivery of fresh Teaneck Hot Bagels.
The first problem with bagel-making is that not all bagel makers seem to realize that bagels are not simply round bread with a hole in the middle. Bagels need to be boiled before they are baked. So that right off the bat eliminates many potential options. The second problem, I think, is the water. Different water yields different results, and Jerusalem seems to have less good water. And also maybe elevation. All this is to say: There aren’t so many good bagels options. The best was Tal Bagels, alav hashalom, but he met an untimely end about a year ago. Bagel Cafe popped up in its place, and they’re still my go-to when I need a bagel, but they aren’t as good as Tal was. Their main problem, oddly, is that their spreads aren’t so good. And a bagel with tuna there costs 24 NIS (~$6.50).