Haifa Cafe & Grill owners Sami, a native of Haifa, and George, of Greek ancestry and a Palisades Park native, attend Mass regularly and light candles, offering prayers for the success of their small storefront eatery off River Road in Edgewater. Somebody up there seems to be listening, as sales are slowly picking up for the two twenty-somethings who met six years ago while working at assorted bagel stores and restaurants in New Jersey. They scraped together their savings and opened their Mediterranean inspired tiny restaurant about a year ago and have amassed a group of regulars who come for the freshly prepared food which is full of bright flavors and bold seasoning. This makes up for the lack of ambience and fact that everything is served on plastic plates or paper lined baskets. To be sure, this is a step up from street food and worth a visit, just don’t expect upscale dining.
We visited on a Friday evening and started with excellent falafel ($5.99), each flavorful orb’s crustry exterior yielding a fragrant, tender interior, redolent with cumin. Kibbe ($6.99), another deep friend Arabic appetizer containing a blend of beef, minced onion and pine nuts, was also nicely done. But what really turned these apps from good to great was the trio of sauces they were served with: Garlic, Parsley and Hot Sauces, the 2nd being my favorite, an explosion of flavor, like a parsley pesto or Arabic take on chimichurri. The menu’s wide array of appetizers, from traditional items like Baba Ghanouj ($5.99) to Foul, ($5.99), fava beans with garlic, lemon an dolive oil, Zatar Pita ($2.49) topped with oregano, sesame seeds and olive oil to Nakanik ($5.99), fried or grilled mini sausages marinated and served with tomato and garlic, make it enticing to order several and enjoy amongst a larger party.
Salads are well-priced and portioned and are offered in Israeli style (chopped tomato, cukes, onion and parsley with lemon, garlic, mint-flecked olive oil dressing) or a similar Arabic salad without the garlic and parsley, same price. Tabouli, Tahini Salad, Greek Salad, Chicken Caesar and Fattoush Salad, the latter topped with deep fried chunks of pita, are all $6.99.
The Lamb sandwich (6.99) was delicious, served in a warm pita packed with sliced of lamb (flavorful, not particularly tender though), tangy tahini and cabbage, lettuce and tomato. Another sauce accompanied this, the only non-premise-made sauce, which was a smooth mango chutney, fabulous and a great accompaniment to the toothsome sandwich. Hand-cut fries ($3.75) cooked in soy oil were enjoyed by my companions, but I found them undercooked and in need of seasoning. Varieties include Haifa spiced fries ($3.99), using a special houseblend of seasonings, and Greek Fries covered in oregano, garlic and lemon sauce ($3.99).
Haifa makes its own Shawerma fresh each day using layers of beef and lamb on the weekends and chicken Monday through Friday. We enjoyed the chicken ($10.99) very much, each slice generously seasoned with sumac and fragrant spices. The Haifa Mixed Platter includes Shawerma, kufta (patties made of ground lamb and beef), chicken and two lamb chops ($16.99). Grilled shrimp ($12.99), Calamari ($12.99), sauteed in a Greek inspired preparation are also offered along with multiple kabobs and grilled quail, three for $11.99.
Lunch is served between 12 noon and 3pm and offers diners 10% off on all orders. Sami and George hope to open another restaurant in Hoboken or Fairlawn in the next 18 months. “This is food from the heart,” George told me. “We are so passionate about what we do that we haven’t taken a day off in over a year and make every dish to order. We have regulars and our catering business is growing.” The team expects to introduce popular Israeli smoothies in the coming months.
Haifa Cafe & Grill is worth a visit to enjoy traditional Greek and Israeli specialties at a gentle price.
Haifa Cafe & Grill 10 Hilliard Ave., off River Road, Edgewater, NJ 201-941-8801/3. Open 7 days from 11AM-10PM. Delivery available.