Owner Magi Mekaiess brings flavors from her homeland to Tallahassee
On the fourth night of Hanukkah, my husband and I walked into CAFE Yerushalmi and we were greeted by the aromas of sizzling oil and fragrant spices. It smelled like childhood, of home and comfort.
“People feel like Hanukkah in my place,” said Magi Mekaiess, chef/owner of CAFE Yerushalmi, located on Lake Bradford Road near Doak Campbell Stadium. “People come in and get latkes, and doughnuts and bourekas. This is the place for them.”
Fried foods, like potato pancakes or latkes and jelly doughnuts, are eaten throughout the holiday to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah: oil that kept the menorah lit for eight days instead of the one day it was supposed to last.
Magi has several fried items on the menu including falafels (made with chickpeas), fried eggplant, vegetarian Moroccan “cigars” (meat or veggies wrapped in light pastry) and bourekas (pastries made of flaky dough with different fillings.)
CAFE (she capitalizes it) Yerushalmi, which had its grand opening Sept. 2, is a casual nook with a few picnic tables outside. It appears to be the only full-service kosher restaurant in Tallahassee. The restaurant closes from Friday afternoon to noon Sunday in line with the Jewish observance of Shabbat, which commemorates the day that God rested after creating the world.
The name CAFE Yerushalmi says a lot. One of the meanings of Yerushalmi, Magi said, is a person of Jerusalem.
Magi was born in Jerusalem, and came to New York 25 years ago. She’s been in Tallahassee about a dozen years and while this is her first restaurant, she said “I have been cooking all the time.”
Magi has done professional catering, and touts her dishes as “authentic food from the heart of Jerusalem.”
On busy days, you may have to wait a bit for your order. Magi, a petite powerhouse, does just about everything herself. The food is homemade except for the pita bread, which comes from a Miami source.
You can order entrees like chicken schnitzel, falafels and beef kebab on pita or as a plate with pita and two sides. These were all excellent and the hummus, with a rich, creamy goodness, was some of the best we’ve had.
There are several dishes built around hummus, including a basic plate with chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, tahini and pickles or hummus with shawarma (turkey), tahini and pickles.
I’ve been getting dishes that I thought would work best for takeout but sometime, I’d like to order shakshuka, a dish of North Africa with variations in Israel, Egypt and other countries of the Middle East. The dish features two poached eggs in a sauce of tomatoes, green peppers and onions with pita.
There are also several starters like soup of the day — often homemade matzo ball soup — stuffed grape leaves and a bourekas plate. The bourekas are some of my favorite dishes at CAFE Yerushalmi. They’re street food, like empanadas or Indian samosas, and they remind me of another Jewish item, knishes.
Magi makes three types of bourekas, filled with spinach, potatoes or mushrooms. They’re different shapes so you can tell what you’re getting. The potato ones, for instance, are rectangles while the spinach are round. We ordered a variety, 10 in all, and gobbled them over a few days, reheated in the toaster oven.
For dessert, we took home two puffy jelly doughnuts, a Hanukkah specialty.
“People are really excited to come here,” said Magi. “They say, ‘wow a kosher restaurant. We’ve been waiting for this.’ “
When you go …
CAFE Yerushalmi, 910 Lake Bradford Rd.; 850-807-9895
Hours: Noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Closed Saturday.
Prices: Pita sandwiches or plates $9-$10 and $13-$15; Hummus plates with pita $9-$10; specialties shakshuka and tabouli salad $9; starters $2 to $7; sides $3 for regular serving and $5 for large.