Adventurous eater // Sabra Grill

Sampling the shakshuka
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The scents of cumin, hot peppers, and spit-roasted meats fill the air at Rochester’s newest go-to for mediterranean cuisine.

In May 2014, the extensively remodeled former Bagel Bin location reopened as a mini-food court located at Twelve Corners in Brighton. Sabra Grill, one of three eateries located inside, is the only kosher (adhering to Jewish dietary laws), Israeli-style, fast-food destination in Rochester. Sabra, which means “prickly pear” in Hebrew, has become an affectionate moniker for Israelis, who, like the prickly pear, are legendary for being tough on the outside but tender at the heart.

David and Ruthie Cohen, an Israeli-born couple, co-own the Sabra Grill. “I came to America and didn’t know English very well, so I went back to the source,” Ruthie says, referring to her training at an Israeli culinary school. For years, Ruthie prepared food in a variety of settings but always yearned to have her own restaurant. Today, she is the head chef and congenial server at Sabra Grill, while her husband, a contractor, is the muscle behind the operation and her chief assistant. Both are happy to provide prepared foods for those who observe the kosher laws. But, to paraphrase an advertisement tagline from a bygone era, you don’t have to be Jewish to eat at the Sabra Grill.

The Sabra Grill offers a variety of staple Israeli dishes such as falafel, served inside a pita or laffa wrap ($7.50) or on a plate with Israeli salad, tahini dressing, and pita ($10); or meat kabobs ($9 sandwich/$12 plate); but by far the most versatile dish they serve is shakshuka ($7.50).

Alternately believed to be derived from Arabic slang for “a mixture” and the Hebrew verb “to shake,” shakshukas’s pleasantly spicy tomato sauce base, topped with two perfectly poached eggs, is just right for brunch, a light lunch, or dinner. Wildly popular in Israel, this North African dish was first introduced there by Tunisian Jewish immigrants.

Shakshuka is a multisensory treat. Even before one tastes the finely balanced mélange of lush tomato and nourishing egg, a glance at the clouds of egg whites crowned with sunflower-hued yolks afloat a crimson-colored tomato and bell pepper sauce will undoubtedly awaken the salivary glands. At Sabra Grill, each shakshuka dish is lightly fried in a skillet to the patron’s specifications at the time of the order. Served in or with a pita or laffa wrap (ideal for sopping up any surfeit sauce), shakshuka is sublimely satisfying when paired with a side of Israeli salad and hummus—a pureed blend of ground chickpeas and spices. For those who prefer a bit more kick, adding zhug, a Yemenite hot pepper, garlic, and coriander condiment, or harissa, a hot chili sauce of North African origin, should appease the spice-loving crowd.

A spacious common eating area, shared by the three establishments (there’s also a Yolickity and a Bruegger’s Bagels in the building), provides a variety of seating options for 100 patrons, from overstuffed chairs near a working fireplace to amply cushioned booths, and two polished former bowling alley lanes repurposed as high-top tables. 

Arlene Hisiger is a Rochester-area freelance writer. 

Categories: Taste, Taste – Top Story