Those craving kosher shawarma straight off the spit, fresh pita or falafel reminiscent of iconic Israeli cuisine are in luck. Hamsah Mediterranean Grill (4371 Murray Ave.) held a soft opening last week with hopes of satiating a particular hunger.
Owned and operated by Nissim and Siglait Assouline, the table service restaurant, which is currently Pittsburgh’s only kosher restaurant of its kind, “is something different than what everybody else has,” said Nissim.
“People know all about Mediterranean food,” he continued. The salads are homemade. The pitas are homemade. The shawarma is a “speciality.”
Being able to offer these fresh dishes in a comfortable setting to the larger Steel City community is the goal, said Nissim, 57.
More than a decade ago, Nissim was among those who owned Pinati, a Middle Eastern kosher restaurant located at 2100 Murray Ave. He left the venture in February 2006, six months after opening, because of a dispute with his partner. “Since then, a lot of people have asked me to open up a restaurant. The community has said we need a good restaurant.”
Nissim enjoys being a chef, but he was reluctant to step back into a similar kitchen, so he volunteered as a caterer for synagogues, undertook kiddushes and handled functions with as many as 200 guests.
“I love working with food. It makes me relaxed,” he said. It is also rewarding.
“When I saw the smiles, and the faces, and the enjoyment, out of the food that me and my wife made — and I have to mention her because she is the best — the compliments I was getting and the warmness I was getting, it made me feel so good. That’s when I decided to open it up, and that was the kick that got me back into the restaurant,” he said.
Nissim was also motivated by a feeling of responsibility to fellow restaurant patrons. “When I wanted to go out with my wife and the kids, I didn’t have any place to go, so I didn’t go,” he said. Hamsah will be part of the solution.
A private June 13 Chanukat HaBayit ceremony welcomed dozens of friends and supporters to the restaurant for a mezuzah fixing and opportunity to relish falafel, Moroccon cigars, stuffed grape leaves, eggplant and other salads. The Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh-certified restaurant’s June 16 event, which required reservations, was attended by more than 60 people, whose carefully prepared plates included homemade hummus, tabouli and other Mediterranean staples. Over the course of the evening, the eatery went through two shawarma sticks, all of its Israeli salad and more falafel balls than could be counted, noted Nissim.
By the end of the night, he was “crazy overwhelmed” and Sigalit had been there for nearly 12 hours.
“We were short two cooks, but we survived. It seemed like people were happy,” he added.
Check Facebook for Hamsah’s hours and days of operation. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.