You won’t find Israeli history or archeology walking down the first block of Whitney Avenue, but in a small lunch joint called Sababa, you can find the fresh and healthy Israeli street food that endears the cuisine to so many.
Jerusalem-born chef and owner Mickey Josephs grew up in a home where his mother and grandmother spent most of their time in the kitchen. His family “was a Sephardic Jewish family,” he says. “Food is constantly in your face, different and spicy.” When Josephs came to the U.S. in 1991 at age 22, he found a job at a pizzeria in New Jersey. He found the work enjoyable, and decided to go to culinary school at a community college.
In 2001 Josephs wanted to start his own restaurant, but New Jersey proved too onerous for a start-up restaurant. He came to Old Saybrook and opened Rosemary & Sage, a Mediterranean-style bistro, in 2002. In short order, a review appeared in the New York Times. After that, well, “We were mobbed,” Josephs says. Two years later, a car drove into the front of the restaurant, causing major damage. It took Josephs nearly a year to reopen, but a year later he sold it and opened Mickey’s Restaurant and Bar in Hamden.
“I’ve always had an itch to serve Israeli fast food,” Josephs says. “I had yet to see an Israeli joint in New Haven. [Something] fairly inexpensive and yummy.” In May of 2012 Sababa was born.
Falafel, salads, shawarma – nearly everything is made in-house. “It’s all out in the open,” Josephs says. “You can’t cut corners. You can see it’s fresh, it’s yummy. No sandwiches made in the back. What you see in front of you is what you get.” Since so much of the food qualifies as vegan or vegetarian, Josephs is careful to keep the meat items separate. One of the small gems of his menu is pita imported from Israel.
Josephs loves the melting-pot nature of his patrons. “We get clientele from all over.” Josephs points around to the diners, “He’s from Iraq, the other guy sitting over there is Lebanese. And you got Israeli guys. We get Palestinians, Saudis, and Brazil, then of course all the kids and everyone else. This place brings them all together.”
“Over breaking bread, everyone is friends,” Josephs says. With an Iraqi father and a Moroccan mother, he should know. “It should be the peace maker of the world. Sit down over dinner and it’s good.”
Restaurant Website: http://sababafalafel.com/
• The Detes: 21 Whitney Ave., New Haven. 203-776-7482 (PITA). Open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Price Range: $4-9.
• Style of Food: Israeli fast food.
• Favorite dishes: Middle-Eastern salads, falafel, schwarma
• Drinks: soft drinks
• Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free available: most of the offerings qualify
• Outdoor seating: no
• Catering: yes