112 Yehuda HaLevi
Sun-Thurs 11:30-1; Fri 11:30-18; Sat 18-1
Where meat meets bread.
If you follow your nose to the end of Ibn Gvirol and continue going straight, you will come across a street named Yehuda Halevi. Intially, the sweet aroma of peppered meat, mustard seed, and freshly baked bread will fill your nose like a tidal wave and you’ll be drawn to a mustard colored, striped awning. The smell alone could be filling enough, but all your senses will be aroused, and soon you will find yourself inside Rubens – the newest and most authentic old style deli in Tel Aviv, or Israel, for that matter.
Once inside, with American Folk music like the Counting Crows playing through the speakers, the employees are cheerfully buzzing around, while customers are lined out the door. It’s astonishing how Rubens can be open for only 9 months and have such a dedicated following. However, this what makes delis so special, customers come from all walks of life, and co-owner Regev notes, “People line up from ages 18-70; from grandparents coming with their walkers, to kids who only know the taste of deli sandwiches as it is recalled to them by their grandparents.”
Rubens has been open for less than a year and lucky for us, they are already opening three more locations within the next few months in Haifa, Yeremiyahu, and Ramat Hachayal. The story begins with four friends who own a chain of bars called Murphys. It continues with the night life aficionados looking for something to do in thier spare time. All four had traveled to New York, eaten at delis, and one had been a chef at a deli in Canada.
Legend has it that there was a Jewish German bread maker, Ruben, who moved to the United States over 150 years ago. Ruben began going around to all the casinos in New York, and started selling sandwiches to the mafia. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how your New York deli sandwich started and the basis by which these four men were inspired.
Following in the tradition of Ruben, the four men were aware that they had big shoes to fill. For this reason the meat they serve today took over a year to perfect. All four spent a year and half on Rothschild Boulevard, steaming meat from their porch. Regev jokes that they must have steamed up the entire street. Today, they spice and steam the meat and leave it just a tag undercooked so they can vacuum pack it. Then they wait until you order to finish steaming it, so each sandwhich is fresh. When you order your sandwich, they add the meat to the steamer and slice it right before your eyes, weigh it to just the right amount, and place it on slices of thick, fresh and warm bread.
I find the amount of meat they put in the sandwich to be perfect. You look at the sandwich, which is easily 70% meat, and think that you won’t be able to bite into it, but it turns out to be just the right amount to sink your teeth into. The sandwich is topped with your choice of lettuce, tomato, onion, and cabbage. Sauces include, but are not limited to: authentic mustard, I mean really satisfying mustard, and of course, thousand island. Your hand held meal comes wrapped up in deli paper like a bundle, with the pickle rolled into the top. I find this to be genius, because it doesn’t have a chance to dampen the fun by making your bread soggy. Yes, of course your sandwich is paired with a perfectly tongue tickling pickle. They delicately complete the meal. The unique pickles, imported from Poland and stored in jars, are the tastiest, sweetest, juiciest, and crunchiest I’ve ever tasted.
The partners actually wanted the restaurant to be located outside the center of town, in a small place. Regev explains, “If it’s a little bit hidden, and hard to get to, we would know that the food was good.”
A makolet (kiosk) style makes up the interior design, something simple with an old school Tel Aviv feel. The designer, Yaron Tal, did an excellent job bringing the vision to life. As you enter the cozy atmosphere assures that you will be taken care of. You feel as if you are half way between an old New York deli and an organic food market. The majority of the ingredients are stored in over sized jars which are stacked on the shelves covering the restaurant walls.
Rubens first opened as a tiny meat counter with little more than a few stools. Already the restaurant has expanded. After buying the apartment next door they added a porch with multiple levels, providing small and cozy nooks to eat in. When you walk alongside Rubens, you see people poking their heads out of various windows watching the street below.
People continuously come to Rubens because it is simple and tasty, no shticks, no shenanigans. Surprisingly, it is this very trait that also makes Rubens unique to Tel Aviv. They are able to deliver their entire vision without compromising quality ingredients. We asked Regev why he thinks they have such success on their hands. He explains, “The employees are genuinely good people, and they have fun with what they do.”
Tomer, Regev, Gaby and Sagi agree this is so much more fun than operating a bar and they were hardly expecting such success. These friends followed a passion that they all shared, and they are absolutely thrilled that Rubens can continue the deli tradition from New York to Israel.
You’d be surprised at how many people actually discover Rubens just from smell!