It is hard to find somebody more passionate about food than Jerusalemite Tzvi Maller. The strong attention to detail and appreciation for the culinary experience is what has helped the former Teaneck, New Jersey, resident and his three business partners establish what has become one of Jerusalem’s hottest restaurants, located alongside the Mahane Yehuda Market, or shuk.
Even before biting into the Bacon Craveburger or tasting the Hot Apple Pocket Pie, one can sense that “Crave” is no ordinary kosher restaurant just by observing the graffiti-blasted walls, the Grateful Dead music blasting in the background and the eclectic mix of diners who are united by their mutual desire to indulge in very good food. All this has helped create a unique vibe that is unmatched by other local eateries.
The idea for this restaurant, which fuses gourmet-style food with street food, was born in Teaneck during a weekend when James Oppenheim was a guest at the Maller residence. Oppenheim was working in the hi-tech field and Maller in the restaurant industry—as the owner of multiple restaurants including Teaneck’s Nobo Wine & Grill. The two brainstormed that weekend on how they could merge hi-tech with food to create not just a restaurant but a “revolution.”
At that time, Oppenheim was living in Israel and Maller in Teaneck, after he had made aliyah in 1999 with his wife but decided to come back to the States after a few years. “Five years turned into 11,” Maller explains, and in 2011 he was more than ready to return to the Jewish homeland. During a family pilot trip that year, Maller met up with his friend Oppenheim. Again, the idea for a restaurant start-up emerged so they jotted down a “business plan” on a crumpled piece of paper. Seven years later, that crumpled piece of paper is framed in the restaurant that grew out of the vision.
Along with two other business partners, Yoni Van Leeuwen and Chef Todd Aarons, Maller and Oppenheim officially set out the plans for their venture in 2015. During the first year, they only succeeded in raising a minimal amount of funds from investors. However, Maller’s optimism and determination paid off, and in November of 2016, Crave opened its doors. Close to one and a half years later, Maller is proud to say that it has been “a huge success beyond my expectations” and he is proud to be doing something big in Jerusalem.
During one ordinary late-afternoon in mid-January, Crave was near capacity with a mix that included two Austrian tourists sipping beer at the bar, a religiously observant family visiting from Queens, two well-dressed businessmen from Tel Aviv discussing a business deal over beef sandwiches, and a Jerusalem family marking a birthday. A businesswoman from the center of Israel who was experiencing Crave for the first time walked up to Maller and effusively praised him for the food innovation he created.
Many of the dishes, including those with Mexican and Korean flavors, were inspired by the L.A. upbringings of Maller and Aarons. Dishes range from French fries made with truffle oil and a drizzling of chives, to the Reuben Sandwich featuring vegan mozzarella, kimchi (Asian sauerkraut) and a flavorful cut of meat that reaches the palate after a preparation time of eight days, to a fair share of vegan options such as the Tofurrito Burrito with brown rice. The daily meat and breads come from suppliers up the block in the shuk, the produce is grown locally and only Israeli alcohols are sold. Techniques such as sous-vide cooking are practiced, providing a unique combination of high-end cooking with casual style. Leftover food is delivered to a nearby soup kitchen.
But Crave’s draw goes beyond the food, as journalist and social media guru Sarah Tuttle-Singer can attest when she states that Crave is “My favorite place in the world.” Tuttle-Singer penned much of her first book, which is scheduled to be released on May 1, as she sipped beer and munched on nachos, Ménage À Tacos and other delicacies at Crave. For Tuttle-Singer, Crave is a beacon in Jerusalem that brings people together. Not once has somebody she had just gotten into a disagreement with on religion or politics walk into Crave while she was working on her book. The welcoming environment of Crave would actually bring the two together and the encounter would end with them chatting over drinks.
“Crave has made me understand that you can have these disagreements about your beliefs and ideologies and come together in friendship. This is love of people.” Of course, Tuttle-Singer has much to praise about the food as well. One of her favorite dishes is the Korean Bowl with chili and garlic marinated braised beef, pico de gallo, pickled onion and radish, green onion and cilantro, which she claims is on par with the same style food she grew up with on the West Coast.
Maller is proud of the fact that Crave is set to be the first restaurant in Jerusalem to receive a “green certificate” by the Tel Aviv Municipality. Some of Crave’s environmentally friendly practices include the use of energy-efficient cooking equipment, recycling of leftover bottles and oil, cooking with free-range eggs and more. Crave also has a “no-tipping” policy. Tips that are left are collected toward parties for lone soldiers. The most recent benefit took place on Super Bowl Sunday, overnight between February 4 and 5.
Maller has big dreams for Crave and hopes to take the venture to Tel Aviv, London, New York and even… Dubai. “I think it’s happening. We have teamed up with some special people,” Maller says, in between hugs he offers to friends and strangers dining in his restaurant. Looking back on his first aliyah attempt, his second aliyah experience and the challenges in the early years to get Crave off the ground, Maller can now rejoice in what he has accomplished. And those who have delighted in the food offerings of Crave can thank Maller and his partners for enhancing the Jerusalem culinary experience.
Crave Crunchy Green Chicken Salad
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Author: Chef Todd Aarons
- 1.5 cups pulled skinless cooked chicken
- 4 heads baby bok choy
- 1 cup baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup baby kale
- 4 tablespoons wakame seaweed soaked in water and drained
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted pumpkin seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted crushed peanuts
- 1 tablespoon fried vermicelli rice noodles (optional)
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons Sriracha
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 1 cup sunflower oil
- 1. Combine all the dressing ingredients except oil in a blender.
- 2. Blend on low until smooth.
- 3. Add oil in a slow, steady stream while the blender is on low. Continue until dressing is emulsified.
- 4. Add salt and pepper according to taste.
- 5. In a large bowl toss all greens, cucumber, chicken, and wakame together. Drizzle dressing over greens lightly, but do not overdress.
- 6. Sprinkle toasted nuts and garnish with puffed rice noodles for added crunch.
- 7. Serve immediately or serve undressed with dressing on the side.
By Alisa Bodner