Tel Aviv is a city with many a cafe, and not all of them have appeared in the Aroma/Cafe Hillel stream of the last ten years. One of the best-loved, and with mighty tasty grub, is Cafe Birnbaum, owned the Birnbaum sisters, Penina and Sima. They took over from their father who ran the space as a bakery for many years, and turned it into a vegetarian cafe, although that term doesn’t really do it justice.
The retro front window tells newcomers that Cafe Birnbaum has been in existence since 1962, but the interior of Birnbaum’s is white, light and airy, and bustling with the activity of Penina and Sima, both with short gray hair and sharp, Tel Aviv-y black pants, shirts and red aprons. Penina runs around with a cigarette in hand, although there is a clear No Smoking sign, and the food is vegetarian and pointedly meat-less, although not crunchy granola, and neither is the crowd. There’s no menu; it’s grab a plate and fill up with as many of the fresh vegetable and grain salads as you can fit on your thick white diner dish. For the second course, you can choose from a selection of vegetable pies and bean and grain dishes, which Penina will warm for you in the oven (although I ate my mine room temp; it was a hot day). And that’s all for NIS 45. Drinks are extra, as are the delectable-looking desserts, which included a plummy fruitcake and sweet noodle kugel last Thursday.
Once you’ve settled in with your very tasty choices, it’s time to sit back and look around, while enjoying eating. Birnbaum’s is always busy, and it’s apparent, even on a first visit or if you haven’t been there for a while, that it’s a well-loved restaurant. The walls — and ceiling — are covered with art and some poetry, much of it by well-known Israeli artists such as Menashe Kadishman and Motty Golan who created pieces of and for the sisters.
Cafe Birnbaum, 31 Nachalat Binyamin