Teaneck—On a busy Friday morning, you might cruise right by the unassuming green and yellow Sababa sign if you’ve been to Butterflake for challah and walked by Rocklin’s on the way to Dovid’s Fish or Judaica House. In some ways, that’s okay, because Sababa isn’t out there trying to impress people. But if you like home-cooked dishes that are heavy on flavor and light on your wallet and waistband, you might just want to take another look.
“If you want to go out to dinner and be served in a special way, you have to pay for it. We are just a family restaurant. With a family of five you can spend less than $50 here,” said chef/owner Danny Mizrahi. “The soup is reasonably priced, and the portions are generous,” he said.
Those who buy Shabbos food here every week know there’s a lot more to Sababa than reasonably priced large portions: What’s truly magical about Sababa is the food itself. It’s not just the shnitzel made with Israeli breadcrumbs, the overnight-marinated Moroccan salmon, the smooth, nutty hummus or the Yemenite chicken soup. It’s the fact that every part of a dish one tastes, from the Israeli salad to the vegetables in the couscous, is powerfully flavored with the zest of lemons and herbs, bringing the light taste of Israel right to your mouth.
Mizrahi, with his wife Molly, took over Fliegel’s in 2005, turning a small hamburger restaurant into a Mediterranean mecca, with house-made falafel, laffa, shwarma and even Merav Yerushalmi, a mixed grill dish that you can’t get anywhere else in Teaneck. “I still make a great hamburger, but we’re not a hamburger place anymore,” he said.
Those in the know are sure to order “Danny’s Special,” a shwarma in a laffa with jalapenos, peppers and homemade chriv (schug). “Everybody loves it,” said Mizrahi. Not to be outdone, “Molly’s Special” is another unique sandwich with a special savory mix of mushrooms and onions.
“We don’t cook from a recipe book. We cook what we like, and we cook with flavor, with a formula of measurements so everything is right every time,” said Mizrahi. Explaining how to prepare his famous Moroccan salmon (recipe below), he asserted at every step how to make sure the salmon is flavored well. He also shared his concern for preparing food healthfully, including skimming all soups of fat and even removing skin from fish before cooking.
Mizrahi was born in Haifa and is a sixth generation Israelite, a true Sabra, though his family originally came from Kurdistan, Tunis and Spain. He grew up in the Masorti movement, and trained as a chef at the Dan Carmel and at Devir in Haifa. He worked in the Dan Caesaria and the Dan Tel Aviv before coming with his family to the States in 1982. Molly was also born in Israel, where both of her parents had moved from Morocco. In addition to being a talented cook, she is also a beloved teacher at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, where she teaches Ivrit b’Ivrit in Pre-K. The Mizrahi children attended RYNJ and now attend TABC and Ma’ayanot. The family were founding members of Congregation Arzei Darom.
On Friday morning, the staff opens ready to greet the many who come in to buy a ready-made set of Shabbos meals or just to augment their own, from chicken to meatballs to kugels to rice, salads and meat cigars. For those who like vegetables, try the spicy carrots, grilled veggies or the marinated eggplant. “It’s a little different every week, whether it’s brisket beef with fig sauce or the oyster steak I make sometimes,” said Mirzrahi, indicating also that the full Shabbos and restaurant menus are available online at sababagrill.com.
Sababa Grill Moroccan Salmon (serves 6)
six fillets of salmon (skin removed)
4 lemons, juiced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp salt
(Marinate salmon overnight in this mixture. Squeeze off excess juice before cooking; do not rinse.)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 dried sweet pepper, reconstituted in hot water
1 tsp tomato paste
4 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp vegetarian chicken bouillon
4 cups water
1 handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup chickpeas (Sababa Grill uses fresh, Mizrahi recommends home cooks use canned).
Procedure: After marinating the salmon overnight, prepare the sauce. In a pan, saute garlic, jalapeno and peppers until soft. Lower heat to lowest setting, and add chickpeas. Place salmon pieces on top of the mixture. Add spices to the water, mix and make sure each piece of salmon is coated on both sides with spices. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, opening to add the cilantro. Simmer for 15 more minutes. Serve warm.
By Elizabeth Kratz