Foodies and pilgrims keep cozy at Ein Kerem's hottest restaurants
With winter rains turning the countryside green and Jerusalem's trees starting to bud and bloom, now is as great a time as any to check out the restaurants and cafes of Jerusalem's old and relatively rural Ein Kerem neighborhood, where the dining scene somehow manages to be at once trendy, ancient, pastoral, holy, bohemian, comforting, edgy, family-oriented and packed with twenty-somethings.
Jerusalemites in the know "discovered" Ein Kerem generations ago, and the neighborhood today boasts a thriving artist/architect/musician/hipster scene. And international frequent the area as well, to see the Church of the Visitation and the spots traditionally believed to be the birthplace of John the Baptist and where Mary once stopped to drink. Moreover, the Eden Tamir Music Center is in the midst of its winter concert season. After seeing the sites, one can always stop at one of Ein Kerem's often crowded restaurants, an integral sector of Jerusalem's culinary revolution.
The range of Ein Kerem restaurants runs the gamut from chilled out cafes - like Café Inbal - to those oozing with style and atmoshphere, including Pundak Ein Kerem, Esti and Perla, Bistro, Brasserie, Charlotte, Agua and Karma.
"We've been in Ein Kerem for half a year," says Brasserie's Adi Talmor, who maintains business interests in a variety of other areas of Jerusalem as well. "Ein Kerem is really becoming a central place for internal tourism - many Israeli tourists are coming to Ein Kerem. People used to just go to the Kotel and the Old City, but now Ein Kerem is on their list of places to see. It's a tourist attraction, especially on shabbat. People come on tours here, to visit the churches, to eat at the restaurants. Businesses are growing up around these tourists," Talmor explains to GoJerusalem.com.
Other Ein Kerem restaurants of note include Karma, which is known for its high level of genre-defying culinary quality, centered around a traditional Middle Eastern taboon stove, which produces top-quality focaccia, served with a variety of cheeses. Karma has definitely captured the weekend "in" crowds, and reservations for a Friday or Saturday meal are a definite must. During the week, things are less hectic, so if a quieter, more leisurely meal is what you're after, a mid-week dinner is a more likely choice. If you're up for an early day of touring, Karma also features a stand-out breakfast menu.
For the kosher crowd, Charlotte is the place to go. With a meat refrigerator showcasing a range of prime cuts, the place is a meat-lovers dream. Diners can choose their meat and have the chef - the famed Eyal Vaknin, owner of Mahane Yehuda's Fortuna - cook it to order with a range of side dishes, prepared fully on-site.
"Ein Kerem's restaurants face unique challenges," asserts Brasserie's Talmor. "Because it's not as centrally located, we have nice weekend crowds but mid-week is tougher." But it can help to carve out a niche of expertise. "Here at Brasserie," continues Talmor, "we have a unique atmosphere - the food is bistro style with a Mediterranean flavor. We stand out from other restaurants because we have a great view of the Judean Hills. We have a balcony, and on nice days diners can sit outside and enjoy the view. Inside, we have several rooms which give the restaurant a romantic feeling."
The experience of enjoying a meal in Ein Kerem differs from those at restaurants elsewhere. "People don't just come here to eat - they come to drink wine, to enjoy the atmosphere," says Talmor. "We just switched over to our winter menu, which features more soups and heartier foods. We are always changing our menu, so it's always fresh."
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