Crave Restaurant – Gourmet Street Food
Crave, Munch, Repeat
American, Bar, Israeli
Kashrut – Rabbanut Yerushalayim, Kashrut Mehuderet
Machane Yehuda Market
Many years ago, when friends were visiting from Canada, the husband told me they were going to the Malcha Mall. I said, “What do you want to go to a mall for?” He said, “Are you kidding, the girls want to eat at a kosher McDonalds. They’ve been waiting for this.”
Kosher McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza, or any of the American franchises can only be found in Israel. And, yes, kosher tourists wait for the chance to try these famous chains’ kosher branches.
And then there’s Crave, which goes even one better.
Talmud Chullin daf 109 says that for everything that is prohibited there is a permitted substitute. For example, you’re not allowed to eat pork or meat with milk but you are allowed to eat something that tastes like them. It’s not the pleasure of the taste that you’re forbidden, it’s the thing itself. That’s why we’re allowed to eat milk substitutes with meat and meat substitutes with milk and Bacos and fake shrimp.
According to Kabbalah, every month has its own tikkun, and the tikkun for Shevat is eating. And what better tikkun for someone who hasn’t always kept kosher to eating faux non-kosher food with a hechsher?
Crave is a Jerusalem restaurant that specializes in these foods, allowing its patrons to enjoy these substitutes in a permissible and delicious way.
Crave opened in November of 2016, and is located in a narrow street astride the Machane Yehuda market. It was established by four men – Tzvi Muller, James Oppenheim, Todd Aarons and Yoni Van-Leeuwen, all Anglo-Israelis, two of them from Los Angeles, who wanted to recreate the non-kosher Los Angeles gourmet Street Food they had grown up enjoying. The four partners eventually all went their separate culinary ways, and the remaining owner Yoni Van-Leeuwen, a former lawyer, has turned it into a family business with his wife, a nephew, a son-in-law and four of his eight children working there. His wife is Ricka Razel, sister of Yonatan Razel and Aharon Razel, and a singer in her own right. The Razels and Van-Leeuwens are both Dutch American families who made aliyah and everyone is fluent in English. The restaurant also helps build families with a phenomenon called Crave Couples. Four couples, to-date, including Van-Leeuwen’s daughter Michal Wigman, who manages the restaurant met their spouses while working at Crave. Michal’s husband, David Wigman, is the current chef.
“Crave is sitting on an interesting seam,” says Van-Leeuwen, “between gourmet and street food.” Van-Leeuwen emphasizes their commitment to haute cuisine. “This isn’t just a great hamburger joint, it’s a chef restaurant – there is a lot going on and almost everything is made from scratch. That’s part of why our customers are happy.”
But that’s not the only reason it’s successful. Van-Leeuwen tells me an interesting story which is probably more the reason the eatery is so popular. Crave features faux bacon made out of lamb. And that’s how Crave wanted to list it on the menu, but the Rabbanut refused to give a hechsher if they did so. Despite Van-Leeuwen using his lawyer talents to convince them there was nothing wrong with the word bacon, and that the OU puts its hechsher on things with bacon and shrimp in the title as long as of course they’re kosher, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Rav Shlomo Amar, didn’t budge. “Listen to me,” he said, “Change the name and you’ll get my bracha.” Van-Leeuwen relented and called the faux bacon Facon, and he says Rav Amar has been keeping his end of the deal.
And of course, it’s kosher. All the meat is Chalak, all the chicken Mehadrin, all greens are highest level kashrut and Bishul Yehudi is Lechumra. And despite the hedonistic slant of the restaurant, inherent in its name, the restaurant has a lot of spirit behind it.
“Not to sound corny,” says Van-Leeuwen, “but the menu became sophisticated because we wanted people to have such a positive experience that they would leave Crave with the energy to do more good in the world.”
Well, Van-Leeuwen has gotten his wish. There is a lot of energy (read calories) in Crave’s food. The portions are generous, all made from scratch, and the people definitely leave with a lot of energy.
There are also several vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options for those people who are more herbivore than carnivore, but the restaurant caters to meat-lovers.
The restaurant has an American feel with many of its 40 employees fluent in English, and the restaurants slogans and T-shirts (which are also for sale) are in English. They also sell American drinks like Dr. Brown’s and their own signature sauces.
I asked whether they have a lot of repeat business and was told that they do have many regulars and returning customers. Michal Wigman says tourists often come straight from the airport, carrying their luggage. “I don’t feel comfortable,” she laughs, “because that’s their first stop in the Holy City.”
Well, at least it’s kosher.
Crave is very small, so reservations are recommended.
To see their website, menu and opening hours: https://www.crave.co.il/