Don’t let the name, Cafe Birnbaum, confuse you. Yes, they serve coffee (good too!) and the usual cakes, cookies and croissants, but Cafe Birnbaum is essentially a restaurant. We “discovered” it during our Friday morning walks in the old part of town, and used to drop in for a fragrant double espresso and a slice of Pnina’s poppy-seed cake. Pnina runs the kitchen, while her sister Sima manages the “front”. Waitressing in the mornings was Pnina’s daughter and other friends and helpers, all pretty professional and soooooo friendly. Friday mornings there is a like at a private club; Yossi with his puppy is always there; Batya, covered with jewelry, holds court to her admirers, Mary insists on the same corner table, while Yonni and Chaim read the Friday papers together for hours. Pnina & Sima treat us all as family, everyone is addressed as “sweety”, “mammeleh” or some other Hebrew equivalent of “honey-chile”.
Ah, but breakfasts and lunches …. (no dinner – Cafe Birnbaum closes at about 4:00pm or when the lunch buffet runs out, whichever comes first). They open early – the first guests are there by 7:00 am. Breakfast, always huge, consists of the usual choice of eggs, juices, bakery items, olives, spreads, confitures (all home-made) and of course coffee, tea or herbal infusions.
But the specialite de la maison is lunch. Firstly, Cafe Birnbaum is completely vegetarian (if you ignore the tuna salad that sometimes appears with breakfast, and the smoked salmon sandwich which is sometimes on the menu). Secondly, it is 100% kosher, with a kosher certificate proudly displayed in the window. Strangely, most of the guests come for the great food and the friendly atmosphere, less so for the kosher-ness.
The best deal for lunch is the eat-as much-as-you-like buffet of assorted salads (including items like quinoa, wild rice, beets, soy, lentils, burghul, not to mention the fresh veggies from the nearby Carmel Market), and a range of pasta dishes, quiches and pies, potatoes, and risottos. All for 45 shekels – about $9. Choose to sit inside (in mid-summer air conditioning makes a difference), or outside at the sidewalk tables.
The restaurant, established by old-man Birnbaum the father, has been in the same location since 1962, which must mean something in a city where restaurants open and shut with mind-boggling frequency. It’s always a great choice, but especially if you are shopping at the nearby crafts market on the Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall, open Tuesdays and Fridays, or at the Carmel Market (look for 10-shekel fake D&G or Calvin Klein knock-offs, toys, flowers, fresh produce, spices and more).
Because it is kosher, don’t go on Saturdays, Jewish Holidays or the entire week of Pesach.
Cafe Birnbaum: 31 Nahalat Binyamin Street (near the corner of Gruzenberg Street), Tel Aviv. Phone: 03-5600066 or 057-9376324.
Posted by Jonathan Danilowitz, Tel Aviv. [email protected]