East village, Greenwich Village, West Village. These are some of the most famous village neighborhoods in the world. So famous, other major cities following suit. Calgary now got a quirky East Village as well. But have you heard of Sabra Village, the smallest of the four villages? My guess is that you never heard of it, because it doesnt exist. Yet! But we are in the early stages of what looks like an Israeli invasion of Nolita, a made-up real estate name which stands for North of Little Italy. Little Italy is slowly vanishing and is now essentially one block. Its a matter of time.
I often said that NYC lacks casual, no frills, but smart Israeli food. A place I can bring a group of 4 to 10 on a whim. They are either too refined (Taboon, Nur, Miss Ada), or not refined at all (Nish Nush, Ba’al, Taim), without much in between. Our real estate market has something to do with it, but deep in the outer boroughs there’s no excuse. There’s a place on Avenue P in Brooklyn called “Pita Off the Corner” serving awful Falafel, and barely eatable Shawarma. But the sprawling space serves as a constant tease to what could have been. Brooklyn is home to half a million Jews, half of NYC’s Jews. I’m certain that not all are kitchen challenged.
But in Manhattan at least, it looks like the newest Sabra are on a mission to change all that. Two of the three I’ll focus on below feel like you are transported to Dizengoff. Not Philly, but Tel Aviv. Sabra btw, has nothing to do with hummus. Its an old term that essentially means Israeli born. “Sabres” is the Hebrew name for prickly pear, a fruit that is rough on the outside, but soft on the inside. And by rough I dont mean Harvey Weinstein, but as in direct, to the point.
Here are some of the early settlers of Sabra Village…
Taim – Yes, Taim is now a local chain, but a very important one. Perhaps after X’ian Famous, the most important, and a good representation of fast food in NYC today. Owner Einat Admony certainly knows her Hummus and Falafel. And while I give the nod to Nish Nush as far as Falafel sandwiches go, Taim’s platter is as good as it gets. And dont be the lame one that pronounces Taim like “lame”. Its Tah-eem.
Shoo Shoo – If there’s anything these places need to work on is the names. Its not clear to me what Shoo Shoo means exactly, other the sound my wife makes when the blind neighborhood cat mistakenly comes to our door instead of the next one where he normally gets his food. The name may not sound inviting but the bright decor is, and the menu brings much freshness to the area. Very solid hummus even when topped with boiled chickpeas that can use some texture (minor quibble). And a legit sesame ladened Tel Aviv style chicken Schnitzel.
19 Cleveland – Continuing the questionable name theme with probably the most important Sabra on the block. This is the first serious brick and mortar by the EWZ fave Nish Nush team. A menu that respects tradition but at the same time playful, and elevated. We already know they can dish out killer hummus and unmatched Falafel sandwiches. But at 19 Cleveland (also the address) you can also find a nifty, well balanced Falafel burger, along with fish and vegan Shawarma, and a slew of other healthy eats. Looking forward to checking out the rest of this menu.
You know what they say. Two is a crowd, three is a village! Nolita is a very small area, and the sudden Israeli pop is noticeable. I’ve seen some call it Little Israel, and some call it Little Tel Aviv. Less than a year ago there were five actually. There’s also a branch of Cava, a kinda Israeli, fast-casual national health focused chain. And then there’s Dez which shuttered a year after opening. Did we reach saturation?