THE KOSHER HAND THAT FED ME
The other night I had dinner at the Jerusalem Cafe, a new restaurant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a town that supposedly has more restaurants per capita than any on Earth. Myrtle Beach is my hometown, so I can tell you, the more restaurants you have, the more likely you are to discover one that has something to say about the art of food, therefore offers adventure in dining out.
The Jerusalem Cafte is Kosher — I’m not sure that designation — kosher — should always be upper case, but it should be capitalized at the Jerusalem Cafe, which is, I was told, the one truly Kosher restaurant in either of the two Carolina’s.
When I lived in the New York, I ate sandwiches from delicatessens claiming to be kosher. I never really knew what “kosher” stood for, what it meant to be orthodox as a restaurant. I might have had an image of a rabbi standing in a room full of meat, blessing the product of a slaughterhouse, but beyond that, I considered “kosher” to indicate a modern, casual relationship with rules for food preparation and consumption set down in the Old Testament somewhere. I imagined some of my Jewish friends in New York had mothers who were orthodox in their ways about home cooking, but I never experienced, or even heard, of a restaurant trying to make money and not opening for business between sundown Friday evening and sundown Saturday, because that’s the Jewish sabbath, and to prepare food during that time is not Kosher at the Jerusalem Cafe. That’s just the beginning of it, and says nothing about the adventure of the food that can arrive from the cafe’s orthodox Kosher kitchen. Now, in Myrtle Beach, which is a carnival town where everybody dances to the cash register bells, we have a restaurant that will sacrifice the two busiest food days of the week, even during the summertime, when opening on Saturday night won’t work because it doesn’t get dark until nine o’clock. In service to purity of gastronomic intention, a whole array of precise and carefully monitored actions occur behind the kitchen door. The local rabbis are subject to pull a surprise inspection at any time, and do. The Jerusalem Cafe is not merely kosher, it’s Gallat, the top of the line, ultra orthrodox.
The result for me was a meal I will not even try to describe in detail. It was different and it was delicious. More than that, it was precision made, even with kitchen utensils baptized in pure rainwater at the synagogue and blessed, because that what it takes to be truly Kosher. Each leaf of lettuce used to garnish several of the dishes had been individually peeled, washed in ice water and salted, in order to dislodge near microscopic bugs, that I am told, thrive in non-Kosher house salads all around and everywhere. We ate family style, from bowls and trays of food brought to the table for all to share — none of it was on the menu. The feast was offered to me as a guest of my friend, Robert Shelley, as business associate of the restaurant’s developer.
I don’t know how the menu items compare to what I ate. My suggestion is go there and ask the waitress, say: tell the chef to cook me whatever he would feed a special, favored customer, like Robert Shelley, and keep sending it till everybody at the table says, “enough already.” Whatever the price, just give me an estimate going in. The adventure of authentic Mediterranean food, I would bet you the price of your dinner, won’t disappoint. Unless all you like to eat is stuff you’re entirely familiar with, and “fine dining” is label you apply to a meal only if it costs you and arm and leg. Which it won’t at Jerusalem Cafe.
Now to The Hand That Fed Me, the featured image of this post, The Hand of Hamsa, or Hamesh, also The Hand of Miriam, sister of Moses, presents the all-seeing eye, magical protection against envious, evil eye intentions. The symbol is recurrent at Jerusalem Cafe. It appears in wall-size portraits hung in various locations around the dining room. In smaller form, as metal hands and with eyes in the palms, it is set in the plaster of the walls at intervals above the dining tables. As my girlfriend said, the decor of the cafe is “visually provoking.”
Depending on which part of the restaurant you sit down in, you might be in a utilitarian Israeli cafeteria, or an exotic back room in a Holy Land nightclub. The point is, when you walk through the door, you leave Myrtle Beach, and move through a cultural veil opening on an atmosphere grounded in five thousand years of tradition.
The Hand of Hamesh will either watch over and protect you, or protect those around you whose intentions are honorable if yours are otherwise.
The food is not out of this world, it merely comes from the other side of the Earth, and by dent of expensive devotion, incessant attention to detail, and constant rabbinical blessing, is consecrated, pure Kosher.