Top-draw slices: A primer on artisan pizzas of Jerusalem
While Jerusalem's fast-food style pizzas can't compare with their counterparts across the Atlantic, "artisan pizzas" are among the most popular dishes at some of the city's most highly regarded restaurants. Moving away from American-style gooey doughs with heaps of toppings, Jerusalem's restaurants are returning pizza to its Mediterranean roots with fresh ingredients, light and creative combinations of toppings and even brick-oven cooking methods.
The brick oven style is perhaps best exemplified at Azzahra, near the Old City, where toppings can be ordered a la carte and the chef has been known to prepare his pizzas in the company of his guests. Azzahra has been entertaining Jerusalem's international set for 50 years. "We began making pizza in 2003," James Shammas, the restaurant's owner and manager, tells GoJerusalem.com. "We have a big, red brick oven which is fueled by olive wood, and we make thin-crust Italian pizza, using only mozzarella cheese and all fresh ingredients - including the sauce, which we make ourselves."
Azzahra's array of pizza options reflect the extent to which Jerusalem's rising food hospitality standards have spread to foods often associated with short-order counter service. "We started out with eight kinds of pizza, and now we have around 35," Shammas explains. "But we try to keep the quality and standards that we started with."
Other restaurants putting their own touch on gourmet pizza include downtown's Gabriela, which boasts oven-fired pizzas and calzones (which are surprisingly rare in Jerusalem); Lavan at the Cinematheque, a neo-Mediterranean-themed cafe where moviegoers can enjoy a pre- or post-screening pizza; and Luciana on Emek Refaim St., where hand-tossed, thin-crust Buffalo mozarella pizza made fresh on the premises has proven a worthy competitor to the establishment's renowned pastas.
Another seam in the pasta-pizza split is Spaghettim, gathering place of the "in" crowd in downtown Jerusalem, which has also made its mark on the pizza landscape, despite the restaurant's moniker. "Pizza has really taken off in recent years," notes Beni Hudja, the restaurant's proprietor. "We offer two types - thick and thin. All our pizza is prepared at the restaurant. We use specific dough, specific sauce. What sets us apart is our experience - we have been doing this for about 15 years," he says of the restaurant's niche in the Holy City pizza market.
Also a veteran pizza destination, Little Italy, located close to many of Jerusalem's popular hotels, has been baking pizzas in a stone oven since 1987. Caffit on Emek Refaim and Al Dente on Ussishkin Street near Nachalot both offer pizza with their Italian fare.
Further out, Ein Kerem landmark Karma uses a traditional Middle Eastern taboon stone oven to fire up their pizza. But if you want to taste this one, it might be a good idea to call ahead, as the restaurant fills up on weekends.
At Montefiore, facing the walls of the Old City in the heart of Mishkenot Sha'ananim, stone oven pizzas complement the chef's many other fine dishes. A combination of location and attention to pure Italian authenticity and detail renders the eatery a prime summer pizza destination.
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