Ringelblum is a restaurant full of contradictions. On the one hand Ringelblum is a gourmet dairy restaurant with an outstanding chef and an amazing menu. The restaurant, however, is located in a makeshift shack in the heart of Beer Sheva’s Shikun Daled. Daled, it was explained to us, is now the Florentine (Tel Aviv yuppie neighborhood) of Beer Sheva. Not long ago Daled was one of the lowest socioeconomic and highest crime neighborhoods of Beer Sheva.
Enter “Tor Hamidbar”. This organization was founded by a group of idealistic post army friends with a goal to enact projects to improve the Negev. One of their projects became Ringelblum. (Named for the street where it is located, ironically Emanuel Ringelblum was a member of the Jewish Social Aid organization that helped people in the Warsaw Ghetto.)
The concept was to give at risk high school students a place to learn a skill, develop responsibility, and be able to get a respectable job in later life. The project, fueled initially on idealism, only took shape when Allan Barkat and the Dualis Social Venture Fund (also of the Liliyot group) brought their business acumen to the table. Together with the founding organization they made Ringelblum a quality restaurant and a thriving business. This creative concept that involves business in social change has captured the imagination of some of the top names in the restaurant industry who have contributed to the success of the venture. This year, Ringelblum’s second year running, they are hoping to at long last turn a profit.
Ringinblum seats about 50 diners. There is indoor seating and additional seating on a patio outside. About half the staff is professional and the other half are trainees. The trainees comprise the service staff, the cooking staff, and so forth. They are paid by the hour and are given an amazing opportunity to learn from some of the best in this business.
Chef Kim Naveh heads up the kitchen. Naveh is a professional chef with experience at well known restaurants such as the famous Rafael. Originally a consultant at Ringelblum, Naveh was so taken by the project that he has made this his full time job. The restaurant also has an on-site business manager from the Dualis group. This winning combination makes for a truly excellent restaurant.
We stopped in at Ringelblum for lunch on our way south, through Beer Sheva. The restaurant has a large parking area in front. The indoor area was a comfortable and well-cooled refuge on the hot summer day. At noontime the restaurant was hopping with an unusual mix of students, couples, and sitting at a table next to us, a business meeting in Arabic.
The menu is two pages (Hebrew only at this time) protected by a plastic holder. I wish more restaurants would use these washable holders. The business lunch includes a starter and a main course for the price of the main course. My companion started with a cold soup while I went with the antipasti. The soup, they warned us, was slightly spicy, but I would not agree with that. It was thick like porridge and very tasty. The antipasti was a very attractive selection of root vegetables, nicely grilled and very tasty. The presentation of both dishes was excellent. We were off to a good start.
If you didn't know the background story of this restaurant, after a little while you would begin to suspect that something is unusual. The service staff is so charming and attentive it seems more than just a job. The restaurant subtitles itself “Food. Home. Coffee.” For many of the trainees it is home, in lew of any other home.
For the main course, I chose the salmon filet while my companion chose the recommended cannelloni. The main courses followed our starters promptly, and it was nice to finally be at a restaurant where we didn't have to wait forever between courses. The fish was served on a stylish platter with potatoes and salad. The portion was reasonable, the foods were tasty and I consider it a perfect dish. The cannelloni was a wonderful choice. The wrapping was soft like a blintz, and filled with lovely vegetables and topped off with cheese. This reminded us of lasagna, which when done well, is a favorite.
We never pass up dessert at a dairy restaurant. I thought to try the Tiramisu, but our waitress directed us to the cheese cake, the restaurant's signature dessert. Many restaurants buy their cakes from dessert suppliers. At Ringelblum, for teaching purposes, all food is made in house. People come in just for this cheesecake, we were told. After tasting it, I bet that people come for that cheesecake all the way from Tel Aviv.
Prices range. You can enjoy a very nice pasta dish for about 50 shekels. At lunchtime your main dish will come with a starter. Fish dishes are 80 – 90 shekels, which is what you would expect in a good dairy restaurant.
So visit Ringelblum restaurant in Beer Sheva. Take a left turn and a left turn from the northern entrance to the city. Set your GPS. There is a very big sign on the restaurant, which makes it easy to find.