Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hot off the Press! Summer is Here! – Good Beer, Average Food at Norma Jean

Norma Jean– 23 Elifelet St.

Damn it’s hot! Summer heat has unfortunately arrived in Tel Aviv and air conditioning units have been switched on city wide. Even I the Disgruntled Diner has unceremoniously switched on his air-conditioning to try and get some sleep.  I know I buck the trend of smiley people enjoying the sea and summer sun on travel agent marketing posters, but it is just too damn hot in the city and not pleasant. If only somebody would offer me syndication of my blog, and the royalties that come with it, as I would buy a summer house somewhere in the mountains.

Fantasy aside we Tel Avivies have to endure 3 months of heat hell – it is not necessarily as a result of high temperatures which is an average 32c/90f, rather the humidity and all day/night wet & sticky feeling. It also wouldn’t be that bad if the temperature would drop at night but here in the city it barely does and how could it with faux sea breezes blowing of a sea where the water temperature is 30c!

It is no surprise that tempers rise in the summer but also unusual behaviours such as street and park benches occupied with people at 2am in their underwear or shorts. I have always wondered why there are so many benches in Tel Aviv, as it is too hot to sit out during the day. However at night couples, children and old people jostle, lay claim and occupy the benches trying to cool off!.

Actually it is late summer nights which is probably the most interesting time to visit and experience Tel Aviv as the city is out on the streets, if only to catch a non-existent breeze. Obviously it is also the time we sleep the least and as the saying goes if you can’t beat them than join them. i.e. if it is too hot to sleep at night you might as well hang out and have a good time.

Summer is also the time of excessive cinema going, supermarket / mall shopping and even bus catching as only here one can escape the summer heat hell with air-conditioning heaven. Now where is the frozen food section?

Norma Jean

The summer feeling really hit me last week when sitting outside at Norma Jean drinking my cold beer at 11pm yet still failing to cool down.

Norma Jean is a place that specialises in a large selection of beer and whisky as well as offering mostly meat inspired food dishes. The restaurant itself is situated on the outskirts of Florentin, which as mentioned in earlier entries is a favourite place of mine to hang-out.

We arrived around 9pm to an almost full restaurant and were actually given the last table in the outside area. The inside of the place exuded character and age as if it had been around for a while with all kinds of decorative knick knacks and an impressive bar wall filled with many bottles.

Having sat down we were handed food and drinks menus. The drinks menu is long with multiple beer, stout and whiskey choices (very little wine and not particularly good), there are also beer and whisky tasting options which is nice if you are interested in tasting different types. In addition, and something that is common in Israel, the place allows you to have small tastes of the beer / stout on tap, which allows you to order the right beer. Personally I was very happy to see such a varied beer menu, which included some tasty Israeli boutique beers.

On the food front it is very much a meat orientated place (not kosher) with burgers, sausages, sandwiches and baby back ribs. Being in the beer mood I had ordered chicken wings while others on the table took burgers, hot sandwiches and ribs. I liked my chicken wings which came smothered in a sticky BBQ sauce – obviously wings are all about the sauce and I found it tasty (others on the table disagreed). The burger was also fine, similar in flavour to Meatbar, rather than Agadir, but still not TDD burger heaven.

The ribs on the other hand were a little disappointing – I am no expert on pork rib cuts but, while the portion was very generous, it was dissimilar to other ribs I have had in the past. Basically it was not the usual small hard ribs with meat in between, where one takes a knife and cuts rib-rib. Rather here it was more like cartilage and fat (maybe another part of the rib area) where the meat did fall away but the flavour was more stewed / pulled pork style. It wasn’t bad just average in flavour but then again I am always happy to see pork on the menu in Israel. 

One interesting observation is that the word for pork in Israel is ‘white’ meat. I was wondering if the branding translation is due to the sensitivity of pork in Israel? I only bring it up as when ordering the ribs someone asked what meat it was and the waitress in a slightly hushed and apologetic tone answered it was white meat.

Another issue with food, as raised by one member of the party who was not hungry, was that there weren’t any snack style dishes on the menu. I agreed with here as one does not always want full meals when drinking and trying different beers and whiskies.

Overall Norma Jean is a nice place to hang out and which offers a great selection of beers and whiskies, yet only average meat style dishes and lacks lighter snacks option.

3 stars out of 5


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