Tel Aviv’s Taste of the South
At NOLA bakery, Israelis sample pecan pie and buttermilk biscuits—with a side order of American culture
Rasner, who from an early age baked at home, isn’t a professional baker, and it was by chance that a mutual friend introduced her to Harriet Sternstein, a Jewish pastry chef from New York who recently made aliyah after having lived in Paris—where she opened Europe’s first gourmet dog bakery, Mon Bon Chien. Rasner found in Sternstein her culinary soul mate, who understands what it is to wax nostalgic about Pop Tarts and Peppermint Patties. Now NOLA’s head baker, Sternstein happily prepares Rasner’s treasured family recipes, like Grandma Nat’s poppyseed cake, made with sherry, or “Lea Jean’s munchies,” which are Talya’s mother’s cousin’s version of mandelbrodt. “My mom’s cousin, Lea Jean, lives in Memphis, where she’s locally famous for her special mandelbrodt cookies, which she makes with pecans—popular in the South—instead of the traditional almonds,” Rasner explained. “Whenever she’d bring my grandmother a box, she would hide them in the freezer and nosh on them straight from the freezer, because if anyone in the family would have known that she had them, they would vanish in 10 seconds. For years, I tried to get Lea Jean to give me the recipe, but she never did. Finally, when I opened NOLA, she conceded the recipe. I promised to name them after her and to never reveal her secrets to anyone.”
NOLA is also a café, serving breakfast and light meals: sandwiches, salads, and even the ultimate American comfort food, macaroni and cheese. The house specialty is called blackstone biscuit, NOLA’s version of eggs benedict, in which poached eggs, bacon, and fried tomato, dripping with Hollandaise sauce, rest inside a Southern buttermilk biscuit, instead of the usual English muffin. Not all Israelis are partial to NOLA’s use of bacon. “It’s this Israeli thing that even nonreligious people have something against pork,” Rasner said. “They don’t mind eating shrimp, but they shudder at the thought of bacon.” Nonetheless, NOLA has already acquired a loyal fan base, including observant Americans living in Jerusalem, who drive all the way to Tel Aviv for a taste of home. “They don’t eat bacon, but the fact that they even come here is impressive,” said Rasner. “They tell me they never eat in restaurants that aren’t kosher, and that NOLA is the only exception.”
Because Rasner had also studied design, she was very deliberate in planning the look for her bakery: “Since the beginning, I had a very clear vision of what the place would look like, what it would smell like, how it would feel,” she said. NOLA’s dining area spreads out to the backyard and has a distinct romantic feel, mixing new furniture with natural wood pieces and vintage findings imported from American flea markets to create a haven of old-time America in the heart of Tel Aviv. “Some people tell me that the place looks European,” she said with a giggle, “but they only say that because it doesn’t subscribe to the stereotypical America that many Israelis have in their mind.”
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