A journey from a love affair with processed foods to a love affair with cheese.
Wow, it’s really been awhile. Hope everybody has been eating well in my absence. I could tell you that the reason for my prolonged silence is because I’ve been busy – we moved, then we went abroad for a month, and since being back I’ve been working 50 plus hours a week (I am probably weak/lazy, but I seriously do not get how people have jobs where they routinely work more than this.) Or I could tell you it’s because we’re trying to be frugal after the moving and the trip abroad. Or that we’re trying to eat healthier (read: more home-cooked meals). All that’s true. But really, I’ve been feeling uninspired, both on the writing end (recent developments have made me never want to write anything ever again) and especially on the dining out end. There just weren’t any new restaurants I felt like trying out.
But a few Fridays ago we decided to try the popular new offering in the hood – Haba. Located on Yaffo Street right next to the entrance to the shuk, the trattoria Haba is really a reincarnation of the bakery Haba. I’ve been told by friends who grew up in Jerusalem that Haba was a longstanding but not very good Jerusalem bakery fixture. For my part, after more than nine years in Jerusalem, I had never noticed nor heard of it. But several months ago they revamped and reopened as a trendy cafe, and everyone was talking about it. So I had to check it out.
As faithful readers and those who know me in real life know, I’m a sucker for atmosphere. On this score, Haba had me before we even walked in. It’s big and airy with a black and white tiled floor and cute tables, and a beautiful display of foods right where you walk in – breads and pastries but also roasted veggies and salads. It was light and not cramped, and even though it was midday on a Friday, we only had to wait a few moments to be seated (at the bar, which is situated in front of a huge window and is perfect for people-watching). It felt very Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, the rest of the experience didn’t live up. I mean, it wasn’t bad by any stretch, I just didn’t get the hype. First, the menu. The menu was pretty simple – breakfasts such as eggs any style, muesli, French toast and the more interesting whitefish eggs benedict, croque madam, and quinoa salad; pastries and bourekas; and sandwiches such as egg salad and tomato mozzarella. The menu made no mention of the things we saw on display (pasta salads, quiches, antipasti), which bothered me because I like all my info, including prices, in one place. Still, the menu seemed inviting enough, if not totally tantalizing and inspired. The real question would be whether the food knocked my socks off. (Spoiler: I was wearing flip-flops.)
AB asked if they had shakshuka despite its not being listed on the menu. The answer was yes, but not now. So he ordered the croque madam. I asked for the tomato mozzarella sandwich, but they were out of that too, so I settled for the eggs benedict, but without the whitefish. Each breakfast came with juice (the fresh-squeezed kind advertised on the menu was extra, but we both sprung for it) and a side salad of mostly lettuce.
AB’s croque madam turned out to be two slices of bread stuck together by cheese with two sunnyside up eggs perched on top. I note this because everywhere we order this dish it comes out with similar elements but always in different formats. It was good, very rich, nothing not to like, but ultimately kind of boring. Which is exactly how I felt about my eggs too.
It’s possible that despite our vacation from eating out we’re just too jaded and a place would have to serve a really exquisite brunch to fully satisfy us. It’s also possible that if we were coffee drinkers we’d feel differently. (I have no idea if Haba is known for good coffee, but maybe that’s why people love it?) Or if I was in the stage of life where I got to idle for hours over a cup of tea on a weekday afternoon.
Prices were on par with what you’d pay for the same type of thing anywhere else.
Should you go? Sure. See what the hype is about. And I’d choose it any day over Cafe Mizrahi, the other brunch place in the shuk that everyone loves, if for no other reason than it’s spacious, you don’t have to wait forever for a table, and once you do sit, there’s room to move and breath. Not to totally dis Mizrahi, I know some people love that kind of atmosphere.
Trattoria Haba, Yaffo 119, Jerusalem. Kasher l’mehadrin.