With a persistent feeling that some classical Hebrew poet might sit down at any moment, Café Batya offers truly delicious classic Ashkenazi fare. Lindsay Citerman ventures back to her grandmother's long-closed kitchen for a taste of this Tel Aviv establishment.
Walking into Café Batya feels a bit like a time warp. As we sat down in this sparsely decorated cafeteria-style Tel Aviv establishment, we felt as though we were traveling back in time to the era of the Yishuv in Palestine. Seated at our porch table, looking at the menu printed simply on a paper placemat, it seemed as though Natan Alterman might walk out of the bathroom and join the two elderly gentlemen enjoying a cigarette just across from us. We could tell we were in for an Ashkenazi cuisine extravaganza.
We started the meal with some of Batya’s specialty appetizers: chopped liver, gefilte fish, krepelach and more. I had a distinct feeling that my Grandmother was smiling down from heaven that I was actually enjoying these treats from her homeland. The horseradish was delightfully spicy and served with a sweet beet sauce with it in a small silver carafe, for enjoyment on any and all of the dishes. Along with our hot appetizers, we sampled the house pickles, slaw and cucumber salad. I was a special fan of the pickles, as they were super-spicy just the way I like them. Nadia preferred the cucumber salad, overflowing with fresh dill.
Of these dishes, the fried krepelach was a favorite for Nadia. She sampled another and “mmmm’d” aloud, remarking that it was like a perfect German wonton. Who knew the Germans had their own version of the dish. I, of course, preferred the chopped liver, a favorite of mine in general. This version - clearly that of someone’s Grandmother - was certainly tasty and went well with the bread, also a part of the restaurant’s charm being that it was “lechem achid” (classic Israeli subsidized white bread - found on kibbutzim and in any small town, but often a rarity in Tel Aviv with all the artisanal bread options of the big city).
After almost filling up on the appetizers, we of course had to try one of the house specialties: chicken soup. We decided to try one with krepellach and one with matzo balls. The former, this time in the version of German tortellini, was another favorite of Nadia’s. Not overcooked, the dough feels light and the overall package has a nice texture. The chicken soup was flavorful. I wondered aloud at the fact that it was just straight broth with no fixings, which my companion explained that this is the traditional Ashkenazi way. Another of Batya’s advantages - they offer the classics in a straightforward way.
Although at this point we were already quite satisfied, we decided to try one of the day’s specials, goose leg in a citrus sauces, as well as classic goulash. Although we explained that we were quite satisfied, these came along with the traditional side dishes, givech (stewed vegetables), tzimmes, stewed red cabbage and green beans in tomato sauce. The goose was a treat, falling off the bone and complimented by the somewhat odd (to my palate) but still quite lovely citrus sauce. The goulash meat was tender and spiced just right - even though we were stuffed we had to enjoy the sauce to the end with a bit of bread.
At this point, we sat back to enjoy a mint tea and, once again, pretend that we were sitting in Tel Aviv of “once upon a time.” Overall, a visit to Café Batya is both a culinary treat for anyone seeking a bit of Grandma’s cooking or a bit of nostalgia. They also offer a few versions of Cholent (Chamin) on Shabbat. As we left, I definitely imagined Ben Gurion sitting on this very porch back in his time, wondering what would be next for the blooming dessert and the budding Jewish state.