The tomato-and-egg dish, shakshuka, arrives with the egg still bubbling in the skillet, edging out the hummus and pita for room on the table. Across the room and down the steps, a second room holds hundreds of kosher wines. Nearby, an Orthodox Jew washes his hands with a traditional Hebrew blessing—al netilat yadayim . . .
This isn’t Jerusalem, but Squirrel Hill, where Eighteen recently opened up in half of what was formerly Pinsker’s Judaica. It’s also referred to as Eighteen, the Café at Pinsker’s, offering kosher wine as well. In Jewish culture, the number eighteen symbolizes life. Until recently, if you wanted to eat at a kosher restaurant in Pittsburgh, you had only a few options: Milky Way Pizza, the takeout menu at Murray Avenue Kosher, the all-Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts on Forbes and Shady, or the intermittently-open Grilliance. But as of its opening in August, Eighteen offers option number three.
The 1,100-square-foot café—which can seat up to 60 people—comes as welcome news to the 35,000 to 40,000 Jews that the Jewish Federation estimates live in Pittsburgh, about 50 percent of whom live in Squirrel Hill. But owner Shlomo Perelman stresses that the restaurant exists for more than just members of the Jewish community.
“We’re a neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “I like to say that we offer fresh, natural, well-prepared food that just happens to be kosher. The restaurant is for everyone.”
The eclectic menu reflects that desire: in addition to classic Middle Eastern staples like shakshuka and hummus, Eighteen offers kosher sushi. This means no shellfish, eel, squid, or crab—in order to be kosher, fish needs to have fins and scales. Despite those limitations, the menu features more than 20 rolls, including the the Pittsburgh Roll: spicy kani, mango, and cucumber topped with avocado mayo.
Other popular menu items include New York-style bagels imported from New Jersey, and Phil and Bill’s Ice Cream, a kosher ice creamery in Greenfield.
Asked if he thinks anyone else might open a kosher restaurant to serve Pittsburgh’s growing demand for fresh, healthy food, the friendly Perelman said, “Be my guest. We have a substantial community here that’s underserved compared to other cities with smaller populations.”