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(l-r): Alex & Shani Meron-Gamili of Joy Coffee Bar; Maxim Berent of Bermax Caffé & Bistro; Ami Hassan of Falafel Place
By BERNIE BELLAN
Now that the weather has gotten hot I thought it might be an opportune time to write about various Winnipeg eateries that specialize in serving the kinds of dishes that you might find in Israel.


Over the years Winnipeg has seen a number of places come and go that served the type of fast food that anyone who has been to Israel would have seen served from small kiosks there, such as falafel and shwarma.
But, with the arrival of so many Israelis to Winnipeg in recent years, I was curious to know where former Israelis like to go to eat when it comes to finding dishes that they would have liked when they were in Israel.
Two of the longstanding establishments that have carved quite a reputation among Winnipeggers are Falafel Place (Corydon at Wilton) and Bermax Caffé & Bistro (Corydon near Centennial). Both places have complete menus offering many Israeli favourites.
Falafel Place, which is open seven days a week from 6:30 am – 9:00 pm, has been around for over 32 years. Owner Ami Hassan is legendary for his zany sense of humour – and for serving a terrific variety of falafel dishes. In addition to falafel though, Falafel Place offers many other Israeli style dishes, such as tabouli salad, bubba ghanoush, beef brisket, shwarma, shnitzel, turkey burgers, chicken & matzo ball soup, and borscht.

Bermax Caffé & Bistro opened a little over seven years ago and is fully kosher. Owned by the Berent family, who came here from Israel over 13 years ago, Bermax serves dairy and parveh foods. It has a very extensive menu – and is constantly adding to it with interesting and innovative dishes. The menu features 21 different types of crepes alone!
Well-known Israeli dishes include: shakshuka (a delicious Middle Eastern dish of egg poached in tomatoes, onion, and sweet peppers, spiced with garlic and cumin); 15 different types of salad, including Jerusalem Salad (chopped cucumber, tomato, red onion, carrot, parsley, fresh mint, mixed greens, feta, tuna, egg and pickles, seasoned with salt, pepper, and virgin olive oil); 14 different kinds of pizza; a large number of pasta dishes, wraps, and delicious desserts – all made on-site. (My own favourite foods for take-out, by the way, are bourekas, which come in four different varieties.)
In addition, Bermax serves a terrific assortment of hot and cold drinks, including some great iced drinks perfect for a hot summer day. In addition thre is  a fine selection of Israeli wines. There is also an outdoor patio. Bermax is open from 8 am – 9 pm Sunday –Thursday, until sundown on Fridays, and is closed Saturdays.

The newest addition to Israeli-style eateries in Winnipeg is Joy Coffee Bar, located at 3311C Roblin Blvd. (just a couple of blocks past Assiniboine Park). Owner Alex Meron Gamili had worked in and owned a coffee bar in Israel for years before moving to Winnipeg last year with his wife, Shani last year. For a year and a half Alex operated a mobile coffee bar (which is still available for hire, he says). About two months ago he opened up in what was formerly a grocery store – and has relied upon word-of-mouth to attract a steady stream of new customers.
But, Alex is quick to maintain that Joy Coffee Bar is not a restaurant – it’s a “coffee bar”, specializing in coffees (10 different types available), and with a limited number of Israeli foods, including delicious shakshukah. However, every Wednesday and every Sunday Joy Coffee Bar will be presenting a new dish that won’t be regularly available. Wednesdays, for instance, Alex says he will have a different soup each week.
While he doesn’t have any sort of a menu online yet, Alex tells me that when he’s planning on preparing something new he will post to Facebook. Recently, for instance, he posted that he was preparing something called “Jachnoun”, which is a Yemini-Israeli pastry that Alex served with four different toppings.
The day that I happened to pop into Joy Coffee Bar to visit Alex (whom I had known from the Jewish Business Network), I was surprised at how busy it became in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I recognized some of the people coming in – and asked them how they had heard about Joy Coffee. Each one said that they had been told to go there by a friend. It’s nice to see members of our community giving support to a new venture. There have been other attempts at opening up Israeli-style restaurants that haven’t succeeded, but Alex seems determined to keep his sights limited for the time being – which should stand him in good stead.
Joy Coffee Bar is open weekdays from 6:30 am – 9:00 pm, and on weekends from 8:30 am – 6:00 pm.

In addition to the three restaurants I’ve mentioned – all of which are owned by former Israelis, there are a number of Arab-owned restaurants in Winnipeg that are also popular with our Israeli population here because they serve foods that are very familiar to them. I visited two of them recently: Yaffa Café, located at 1785 Portage Avenue, and Les Saj, located at 1038 St. James Street.
I have to admit that when I told some people that I was going to mention two Arab-owned restaurants, I was warned that I would get a negative reaction from some readers. When I spoke to the owners of both restaurants, however, I was told that they have many Jewish customers. I also know that, for the most part, Israelis don’t avoid eating in Arab restaurants – but, Jews in the Diaspora often tend to harbour different attitudes when it comes to that sort of thing.
Still, I decided to try a shwarma at El Saj when I stopped in there to introduce myself – and it was fabulous. (By the way, I’ve always loved shwarma ever since I first tried it in Israel over 40 years ago, and there have been places in Winnipeg that offer it here. Among my favourites is a place called Best Pizza & Donair at 1469 Pembina Hwy. I discovered that place when I needed to get a computer fixed and it turns out that the guy who fixed it was part-owner of that restaurant. He’s actually Kurdish, he told me.)

So, there you have it: a brief review of some places that serve some of the kind of food you might expect to find if you were in Israel. I’m sure my list is incomplete – and I have no doubt I’ll hear about that from readers – and other restaurateurs. (Funny, isn’t it, how you drop the “n” from restaurant when you spell restaurateur?)
If you have a favourite Israeli food that hasn’t been mentioned here or another restaurant whose name I should have included, why not let me know and I’ll add something in a subsequent issue? (Oh, by the way, I know there are other places very popular with Israelis, such as Korona on McPhillips, and I’ve written about it in the past, but the Russian food there is so very different from what I’ve written about here that I will write about Korona again in a future issue.)