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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Greenwich Village on the west bank

The other night a couple in our neighborhood invited us to join them for dinner in a local restaurant…one purported to have both good food and live music. Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity because:

a) We really like this couple (they are about our age and have kids of similar ages)

b) We seldom get to go out and eat with / like adults

c) Living a half hour outside of Jerusalem, we have tried a few take-out places, but knew of no real ‘restaurants’ in our area

d) We like good food

e) We like good music

No-brainer, right?

Now, the restaurant, (called Gavna) is located in, or near the village of Bat Ayin (supposedly only a few minutes from Efrat), but I had never been there, so I suggested we all go together in our car. It was a good thing too, because there is no way in hell I could have ever found this place on my own!

I was directed down a steep mountain road that snaked away from civilization, and off into the darkness. The road (maybe path would be more accurate) was mostly innocent of asphalt, with enormous potholes and ruts, and the only lights came from our headlights reflected off of tree trunks and the stars overhead. Each time I asked if they were sure this was the right road, our friends assured me that everything was fine. I figured if the terrorists didn’t get us, we would probably drive off the edge of a cliff. “ Great!” I thought… “I’m gonna die hungry!!!”

After bumping and jostling through a series of switchbacks we spotted a hand-painted sign nailed to a tree…so amazingly we were at least headed in the right direction. The dirt road took a few more tortured turns and we finally arrived at a small clearing where five or six cars were arranged haphazardly next to what looked like a clapboard shack. No sign…no lights…just the cars and the shack. Yikes! I’m thinking, “Zagats isn’t going to be reviewing this place anytime soon.”

“This is it”, chirped our friends from the back seat, so I pulled up next to one of the cars and we all got out.

It was a beautiful evening and the cool mountain air smelled wonderful, but I was really starting to have some misgivings about our friend’s choice of ‘restaurants’.

We walked up the creaky wooden stairs, and opened the jiggly door into an honest-to-goodness ‘Jook Joint’. I’ll save you the trouble of doing a Google search by giving you a working definition of the term:

jook joint(joomacr.gif k joint, joobreve.gifk joint)

n.

a small roadside establishment catering largely to African Americans, often on the edge of a bayou, forest or cotton field in the southeastern United States where you can eat, drink and dance to music provided by a jukebox or a small band.

Other than the fact that this place was nowhere near the Mississippi delta and lacked the requisite clientele, a ‘jook joint’ is exactly what it was.

The place consisted of three rooms:
A medium-sized room with low tables, floor cushions, a few stools and benches, all crowded around a small raised platform / stage, a dining area with a rough-hewn bar and 5 or 6 shaky wooden tables, and a kitchen (which announced its presence through a dizzying array of heavenly smells).

When we arrived, there was only one table open, so we grabbed it. Looking around, I remembered what a friend had once told me about the village of Bat Ayin. He had said (only half jokingly) that it was a small community made up mostly of orthodox hippies. Now there are two words you don’t see together every day: Orthodox. Hippies. He said the residents worked mostly in organic farming, shepherding, weaving, carpentry and beekeeping.

Looking around I could see what he was talking about. Most of the clientele and all of the staff were decked out in varying ensembles of dyed cotton, crocheted shawls and hats, sandals, make-shift dreads, multiple piercings (nose, eyebrow, lip, etc.), and big contented smiles.

I would have spent more time contemplating the local attire, but the smells coming out of the kitchen were making it really hard to concentrate. I’m a typical male in that there are a few basic things that will catch and hold my attention…good food being nearly at the top of the list.

Our waitress drifted over with a big toothy smile to take our order, and gazed deeply into our eyes. I’m a friendly person and all, but this is something that sort of puts me on edge about some new-age types. For some reason I get uncomfortable with long probing gazes…especially from strangers. This one stopped just short of the ‘Vulcan Mind Meld’ in its intensity and I had to feign a sneeze just to kinda break up the moment.

While we waited for the food to arrive, we heard the sound of acoustic guitar, flute, and percussion warming up and going through a sound check in the other room, and the repeated bang of the flimsy outside door indicated that people were beginning to arrive for the show.

More batik and Birkenstocks®, you ask? Oh my, yes.

Our meals were beyond delicious, and the company was also quite pleasant. While we plowed through our soups, fresh-baked breads, and main courses (organic veggie all), we listened contentedly to the music drifting in from the other room, and basically enjoyed the rare treat of not having to cut up anyone else’s food.

Desert was…sinful. No diet could stand before it. Forget my Zagat comment earlier...If my friend Jim over at chowhound.com ever comes to visit, I will have to drag him over to this place for a looksee. He may never leave!

On the way out, we had to wade through scores of comfortably attired listeners in the coffee house / music area of the place, and I made a mental note that it might be fun to come back some time just for a coffee. I regret having missed out on the whole ‘beatnik’ thing…maybe this would provide a worthy stand-in - a kind of Greenwich Village on the west bank.

As we bounced and jostled our way back up the mountain and returned to civilization, I thanked our friends for making the introduction. This was definitely not the kind of place that one would ‘stumble upon’ without help.

As I write this several days later, I still have a big goofy smile on my face. Maybe I need to look into adding some cotton to my spring wardrobe.

Posted by David Bogner on March 28, 2004 | Permalink

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sometimes there is a little heaven on earth. I grew up then.
Love
Dave

Posted by: dave | Mar 29, 2004 5:41:46 AM

Dr. J:

Your statement makes the bold assumption that you actually grew up. :-) Anyone seeing you zipping around Connecticut on that jazzy little motorcycle would beg to differ...but I get the idea.

David

Posted by: David | Mar 29, 2004 8:32:26 AM

Aaah yes...the hole-in-the-wall divey places often have the best food and atmosphere!
My favorite local haunt is a Chinese restaurant in town that serves the best Americanized Chinese food I have ever had. The kicker is the service. It's as if the waitpeople are on speed. Seriously. Often the check comes before your meal. But, it's a great, great place.

Posted by: Lisa | Mar 29, 2004 3:25:23 PM

Chinese waitstaff on speed...now there is an image to make me giggle all morning. Call the PC police...I just had an impure thought!

Posted by: David | Mar 30, 2004 9:12:17 AM

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