Milk may do a body good but it has evaporated from Cafe 18. The kosher restaurant, owned and operated by Shlomo Perelman of Pinskers Judaica, was once a milchig eatery offering Alfredo-sauced pasta and feta topped salads. The Murray Avenue haunt now boasts Hawaiian hamburgers and a Philly steak sandwich (minus the cheese).
“Some people miss the dairy, but all in all, it’s opened us up to a wider audience, a wider clientele,” said Perelman. “People appreciate what we did.”
Prior to Passover, Perelman pulled the plug on the dairy operation.
Just before the holiday began, “we got rid of every piece of dairy food and cleaned all the pots and pans and utensils,” he said. The only items remaining were those which Rabbi Yosef Itkin, kosher supervision administrator of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh “said we could convert from dairy to meat.”
The plates were unable to be kashered, so they were donated “around town.” The utensils, skillets, silverware and glasses all underwent the mandated process for switching over to fleishig use. The endeavor “took us three full days,” said Perelman.
Despite the shakeup, Cafe 18 appears quite similar to before, with the decor and menu largely the same.
“Our fish stayed the same; we still have Israeli salads,” said Perelman. “The really most significant thing that we added were the burgers.”
But by doing so, “I expanded the menu greatly and the appeal to people. People like to go out and eat meat,” he explained.
“Burgers are hot all over town — burger chains, Burgatory — there are very popular franchises around town and the market is there. You just have to give them a good product.”
Perelman is confident that, along with sushi from Chef Jing that is “as good as it gets in this city,” he is delivering something unique. The fact that Cafe 18 adheres to specific Jewish laws does not mean that it’s a “kosher restaurant,” he said. Rather, “it’s a restaurant that happens to be kosher.”
“There has always been a diss on Pittsburgh and on the kosher scene,” he added. Ever since we “lost our fleishig restaurant, [Grilliance], there are people who come into town and can’t believe we don’t have a fleishig restaurant. So for people who are coming in to town for business it’s a welcome change.”
But apart from visitors, Perelman sees his clientele as mostly “the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.”
“Our core clientele are those people who keep kosher but our desire is to offer this as just a great neighborhood meeting place,” he said.
By transitioning the restaurant “it’s sort of changed the entire community in a very significant way,” said the owner. “It’s a great opportunity for different parts of the community to get together in a great dining atmosphere, and that’s something that’s been lacking for very many years. We are proud that we are such a meeting place for everybody.”
Cafe 18 is located at 2028 Murray Ave. in Squirrel Hill. Hours and information are available at cafeeighteen.com. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.