We were not overly excited by the opening of ANOTHER Israeli-style restaurant in Philadelphia -- we have two of them in the Northeast alone. How much schwarma and falafel can you eat? So we didn't run over to try the Judah Mediterranean Grille when it opened without any fanfare this summer.
In fact, at the start, we didn't even know it was kosher. We spotted the prominent "Judah" sign at the Krewstown Shopping Center as we pulled out of Beautyland one day. But we hadn't heard any buzz about a new kosher restaurant opening. There are plenty of non-kosher places with Jewish-sounding names -- the popular high scale Zahav and the low scale Bubbie's Brisket in Center City can be misleading.
However Judah is supervised by Rabbi Moshe Arviv of the Sephardi Beit HaRambam Congregation. My daughter Odie and I decided to give it a try yesterday as a way of extending a pleasant afternoon at the Philadelphia Opera Company's performance of Otello. The opera ended around 5:30 and by the time we returned to the NE and arrived at Judah it was almost 7.
Although the normal dinner hour had passed, the place was still crowded, and I think we were the only native English-speakers. Clearly here is a fleishic (basari) rival to the dairy Expresso Cafe.
We were seated immediately and welcomed by our polite young server, who offered us ice water when we chose not to order a drink. A plate of picked vegetables (radishes, carrots, peppers) was set on the table to keep us occupied while we studied the menu.
I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I schwarma platter. The menu runs the gamut from conventional Israeli fast food in pita to a pricey rib steak. The platter came with two sides -- I chose roasted zucchini and couscous. Odie went with cabbage soup - one of three soups available -- and a Jerusalem salad.
The soup arrived with two soups and a very large bowl. Odie ate most of it and left the rest to me. If you like cabbage, it was delicious. Her Jerusalem salad ($10) proved to be lettuce and traditional Israeli square-cut vegetables with four falafel balls and pita chips. The pita chips, as well as the toasted pitot served with the meal, were fresh, and she suggested that the chips be package, they were so good. The salad was so large that, already full from the soup, she asked to take the rest home.
My schwarma ($18) consisted of a very large portion of turkey meat, nicely spiced but overly salted. The zucchini, on the other hand, was perfectly roasted and served with roasted red peppers. As a devotee of the Atkins diet, I don't eat couscous, but I took one bite as a sample. It was the large Israeli couscous and, again, perfectly seasoned. Odie commented that it was much better than the packaged couscous I usually serve, and we packed that up with her salad.
We were too full for dessert, although the menu contained some interesting items including an ice cream dish with cherry tomato sauce. The restaurant does not offer American coffee, only Turkish and Israeli Nescafe (instant). Which was a disappointment.
We also ordered a bowl of lentil soup for my husband, who stayed home to work on his school lesson plants for the week. He commented on the excellent flavor, but balked when I told him that the meal had come to $39 for the two of us. I had to agree.
Although the service was excellent, the portions large, and the food well-prepared and flavorful, if I am going to spend that much on dinner, I prefer someplace quiet with a more sophisticated atmosphere. I think I would reserve the noisy storefront Judah for lunch with the kids.