Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hooked on Shakshuka

Around Town:
Hooked on Shakshuka
By Anita Susan Brenner

Ever since the fire in the fish tank 12 minutes away from La Cañada at Cafe Eilat in Valley Village, I’ve been waking up too late. Too late to go to the morning service at Adat Ari El Synagogue (down the street from Cafe Eilat). Too late to go to the gym. Too late to get an Israeli breakfast (or at least Israeli coffee) at the cafe.

I didn’t grow up eating Israeli food. I had never been to the Cafe Eilat until my friend Abe Sarna took me to breakfast at Cafe Eilat after the morning service at Adat Ari El Synagogue.

Abe, my friend, is a Holocaust survivor. He was born in Drobin, a small town in Poland near Warsaw, in 1925. When I first met Abe, he had just lost his wife. Our family had lost a son.

Abe and I each took strength in the ebbs and flows of the weekday liturgy.

What I like about Abe is that he always calls me “Doll.” When I had a mishap a few years ago, he called me constantly to check up on my whereabouts, which forever endeared him to me.

Which brings me to the Shakshuka. You probably don’t know what Shakshuka is, neither did I, but you have to try it. It gives you more energy than sushi or menudo, and tastes better than oatmeal.

Shakshuka IS the Breakfast of Champions.

So, picture this. The Cafe Eilat had just opened, with freshly painted wall murals, giant fish tanks and a big screen TV tuned to Israeli version of CNN.

That first visit, I didn’t order the Shakshuka. I had the hummus plate. Yum! Abe ordered the scrambled eggs. As we ate, we talked about life. Abe was the youngest of a family of nine children. Miraculously, six of the brothers survived Birkenau and Auschwitz, but not the parents and not the sisters. After his wife died, Abe made friends with a family named Sharon, Alan, Matthew and little Mikey. Abe taught Mikey to play poker. Mikey loves Abe.

That first visit to the Cafe Eilat, I looked over in the corner and noticed these folks digging into the contents of individually-served sizzling iron skillets. Inside was a tomatoesque mixture with two poached eggs on top.


The next time Abe and I went to breakfast, I ordered the Shakshuka. It was an incredible mix of tomatoes, peppers, Mysterious Other Stuff and two poached eggs, all to be sopped up with totally awesome fresh baked bread. The coffee was equally grand, with steamed milk in a separate pitcher.

I was hooked. Some people think I’m religious, but there were days when I got up early to go to services for the promise of the post-synagogue Shakshuka. Which is why I was heartbroken last month to see Cafe Eilat boarded up.

What happened? I asked the guy at the Falafel place across the street. He shrugged and said, “Only God knows.”

What happened? I asked at the market. No one knew.

So I googled the news and discovered there had been a fire in the fish tank and that although “the bulk of the business is untouched by fire, per protocol Cafe Eilat will require clearance from the Health Department before it can again open for business.”

An overheated aquarium motor near the seating area started the fire.



ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California

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