In Brooklyn, an authentic taste of Israeli cuisine
We stop by Williamsburg's 12 Chairs Café for some of the Big Apple's best Mediterranean food.
If you have never been to Israel, you can get a taste of Tel Aviv at 12 Chairs Café in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Everything from the décor to the menu has a touch of Israeli flair, and those who have been, keep coming back for the food, the authenticity, and the warm hospitality.
We sat down with owner Shimon Maman, who hails from Israel, and chatted about the restaurant over a spread of delicious plates: shakshouka, hummus, labne, Israeli breakfast, cauliflower, chicken schnitzel, Israeli pickles and copious amounts of pita. “You really feel like you have traveled to Israel and are sitting in your mother’s kitchen,” Maman recounts of his childhood. He says this is the way they eat, and he chose this new spot in Williamsburg because it reminded him of home.
There is a 12 Chairs Café in Soho as well, which is actually the original location, where Maman was a regular customer. The spot was only big enough to fit a dozen chairs, hence the name, and he eventually became a partner and the culinary director. The restaurants literally bring in the flavors of Israel, as their pita bread is flown in from the Mediterranean country. The menu at both spots is the same, but the one in Williamsburg gets bonus points for a larger space, outdoor seating, and a liquor license with a full bar. They even make their own specialty cocktails – perfect for a boozy brunch with friends.
The shakshouka is one of their most popular items, along with the Israeli breakfast. The shakshouka is two eggs baked in a cast iron skillet with a rich and spicy Moroccan tomato sauce. Served with Israeli salad on the side and pita for dipping. The sauce is everything in a shakshouka, and 12 Chairs nails it every time.
The Israeli breakfast is one of Maman's personal favorites, which consists of two eggs any style, chopped Israeli salad, assorted dips and cheeses, fresh juice and coffee. He describes the dish as “homey but also rich in taste."
If you’re in the mood for something a bit heartier, try the lamb burger, another one of his favorites. “I love the lamb burger because that was the first dish I added to the menu when I became the culinary director at 12 Chairs Café." And we’re glad he did. The meat is seasoned perfectly, then topped with feta cheese, red onion, Israeli pickles, and spicy mayo.
Switching gears slightly, we split some chicken schnitzel. As Maman pointed out, this is the beauty of 12 Chairs Café: there is something for everyone, even the kids. “Because you have a lot of different types of food in Israel, you can mix a lot of various cuisines in one dish.” The chicken is pounded super thin, breaded and fried to a crisp golden brown. It is tender while still being crispy on the edges, and surprisingly light for a fried dish. I absolutely loved it.
Another fun fact about 12 Chairs is that breakfast is served all day – typically the only places in NYC that do that are diners, and this is hardly diner food. The freshness is evident in the produce as well as the dips, meaning the hummus and labne should be on your table at all times. The smooth chickpea mixture of the hummus and the yogurt labne is creamy and perfect with pita bread. Both of these go quickly, and there’s a reason.
Lastly, you can’t have an Israeli restaurant without falafel pitas. And theirs are packed with crispy falafel, Israeli salad, pickles, and drizzled with sesame tahini. A perfect snack for any time of day.
If you like sharing delicious food with your family and friends, you need to make a visit to 12 Chairs in Williamsburg. And now that spring is upon us, it’s perfect for al fresco dining – so don’t forget to have a cocktail to celebrate.
In addition to writing for From The Grapevine, the Brooklyn-based Dara Pollak is a food blogger at the Food Network, Bravo, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Thrillist, and Springer Mountain Farms.
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