At Etzel Itzik in Aventura, Home Is Where the Hummus Is
Falafel platter at Etzel Itzik Deli.
All photos by Zachary Fagenson
Moments after taking your seat inside Etzel Itzik Deli a barrage of food in small white plastic bowls clacks down on your table. There are hot, fluffy pitas, a beet salad, pasta salad, tart shredded cabbage, and shucked corn in a cream sauce.
A green chalkboard sign above the kitchen reads "At Itzik's you're at home." With all of the free food, they're not far off.
Salads (free as long as you order something) at Etzel Itzik.
"How often do you go to a restaurant and wait 20 minutes for a table and then 10 minutes for a glass of water and then for the food, you wait another half an hour," owner Itzik (Hebrew for Isaac) Younis tells me when I ask why he gives away so much. "My idea was to have things on the table, everybody's happy, and they can relax and order more food."
By the time a Limonana - an emerald green drink made with lemonade, mint and ground ice - arrives there's hardly stomach space for it. Same for the hummus, which comes dusted with paprika with a small pool of tahini in the middle.
The menu has everything you might expect - fluffy green falafel, crispy chicken schnitzel stuffed inside pita bread - and some other, harder to find eats. If you want just the pita and salad that starts a meal it's only $4.95.
Younis brings in Neviot, a pricey, flavored Israeli water, through New York distributors, and recommends the Sabich, a sandwich that's stuffed with egg, eggplant, Israeli salad doused in tahini, scallion and pickled mango.
Inside Etzel Itzik.
He opened the Aventura restaurant in 1998 after relocating from London. Younis was born in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. He left Israel at 21, after fighting in the Yom Kippur War when Egypt invaded Israel via the Sinai Peninsula and Syria in the north via the Golan Heights.
During the deli's early days he'd snap pictures of his regulars and slide them under the glass tabletops. Eventually the tables filled up and he moved to the walls. Today hundreds of pictures, some faded and yellowing, cover almost every inch of the walls.
Inside the restaurant you're most likely to hear Hebrew being spoken, a world away from some of Miami's Spanish-only enclaves.
Don't fret if you hear a scratching noise emerge from someone's throat. They're not choking on a piece of parsley, they're just pronouncing the Hebrew letter Chet that, simply explained, sounds like someone trying to clear a piece of popcorn out of their throat.
For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.
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