“It’s not about the destination,” they say, “it’s about the journey.”
But they clearly never needed to drive to Philadelphia to pick up the carryout order to end all carryout orders. In this instance, it really was about the destination.
Grubhub has nothing on me.
Let me back up. I am a Michael Solomonov (of Zahav fame) super-fan. The Israeli chef and Philadelphia-based restaurateur is my spirit animal. Those of you who are big Jmore media consumers will be familiar with my almost constant mentions of him on my former Facebook Live shows with Richard Gorelick or the not-so-subtle mentions of him here and here.
This mentsch has cornered the market on really tantalizing, soul-fulfilling, Middle Eastern cuisine. When I say cornered the market, I mean it. The CookNSolo restaurant umbrella, which Solomonov operates with business partner Steven Cook, features five eateries on Philadelphia’s Sansom Street alone, and the others aren’t far away.
Alas, there’s the rub. That’s all fine and well for Philadelphians, but a smidge less convenient for staying-at-home Baltimoreans.
What is a marooned foodie to do?
In “Before Times,” my fellow glutton, erm, I mean gourmand, Kim, and I would think nothing of traveling a couple hours in any direction for some mouth-watering treats. We might go to Chadds Ford, Pa., for brunch at Terrain (The cheese boards! The flower pot bread! The customizable Italian sodas!). Or we’d think nothing of hitting up a street fair like the annual Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, Pa. (Kim doesn’t even eat mushrooms!)
We usually try to time our Philly treks to coincide with a crafts market or a much-needed stock-up at Di Bruno Bros. (go for the formaggio, stay for the everything else). This is a trip to The Promised Land.
As soon as certain states started popping up on travel restriction lists, we panicked. Could The Government really keep us from The Garden of Eatin’? There was no way we were going to get through several more months of pandemic without hummus from Dizengoff, falafel from Goldie or pastries from K’Far.
What to do?
Make a plan, that’s what!
I sent a desperate plea to CookNSolo’s customer service folks and explained that we were stranded a couple states over with nothing that could quite satiate our cravings for stellar Middle Eastern fare (if I’m wrong, I’m listening). A very helpful employee wrote back, said she understood our plight and offered to gather our entire order and meet us at a central location.
Next, we held a socially distanced planning session in front of each restaurant’s online carryout menus. It was complicated. We had to take all party platters and family-sized portions into consideration. We needed to maximize the order and make sure there was enough of everything.
It took hours. At last, we ended up with a list of 30 falafel balls; pounds of hummus; 20 or so pitas (seriously, they’re worth the drive alone); a couple pints of tahina; some amba, harissa and schug sauces that ranged from spicy to mouth-burning; dozens of rugelach (these are NOT New York ruggies – they’re cakier and have a yogurty tang); and a few three-packs of borekas (flaky savory pastries) that added up to approximately $300 (Hey! We WERE shopping for three households).
We placed our orders and counted down to departure. When the hour finally arrived, we learned that Joe Biden and Barack Obama would be making campaign stops in Philly that very day. Super! Now we weren’t just galivanting about in the middle of a quarantine with a crazy-eyed Thelma & Louise-like intensity, we were also running the risk of being pulled over for transporting suspicious amounts of hummus across state lines.
Even that wasn’t going to deter us. We needed to eat!
We loaded up the car with multiple ice-packed coolers, jammed our pockets with sanitizer, gloves and masks and hit that beautiful Highway to Heaven. We got into the City of Brotherly Love exactly on time, located a garage across the street from Dizengoff – the designated rendezvous — and found our partner in this Israeli food heist.
After gleeful squeals and a quick pit stop, we grabbed our brimming boxes and headed back to the car where we made sure everything was well-wrapped and properly stored. Then, we took a slight detour because Federal Donuts was sitting right there. Yes, we can!
We had La Colombe iced coffees, a chocolate cake donut and a fried chicken sandwich. We ate, sanitized for the umpteenth time and headed home.
(P.S., while we were wolfing down our first indulgence of what would prove to be a very indulgent week, who do you think walked by across the street? Uh, just Michael Solomonov!!!!)
We weren’t done with our epic day of culinary scavenging yet. We still had to divvy up the goods!
When we got to my house, we spread everything across all my kitchen counters and surfaces (being the smart cookie that I am, I’d cleared them off in advance). I re-sanitized, donned gloves and set about dividing and conquering.
We counted out our pitas and falafel balls, bartered on who wanted which pastries and separated the sauces and salads, heaping ladles full into waiting containers.
It was hard-fought Mideast peace on a platter.
Whatever I didn’t freeze or pass on to my parents – I still have about five falafel balls and a tray of pita in the freezer — was devoured within the week. I ate overflowing, dripping falafel-filled pitas, plates full of hummus and so many Israeli side salads for just about every meal.
Actually? Kim, get the sanitizer and gas up the car, we have somewhere to be.
Amanda Krotki is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and Jmore’s former digital and social media manager.