By Scott Doty & Jessie Merlin of What to Eat in Birmingham
Born in Israel, Eli Markshtien grew up cooking at his grandmother’s knee in her tiny kitchen. Utilizing fresh ingredients mostly grown and raised in her modest yard, she was able to create simple dishes that were far more flavorful than what Eli was able to find at local restaurants. After years of learning by watching and helping, when teenage Eli asked his grandmother for written recipes she explained that you don’t write recipes, you feel them. For her, for consistent excellence, following the steps, while important, is only a starting point.
Three years ago, after moving to Birmingham from Chicago, Eli and his wife Laurel Wurthmann-Markshtien explored various business options before deciding to open their own restaurant. A crucial piece of advice came from Laurel’s mother and father who encouraged them not to pass up an opportunity to follow their dream. The concept for Eli’s Jerusalem Grill grew out of a quest to create delicious food from the healthiest and freshest ingredients available for their family at home. While using less expensive ingredients would mean larger profit margins, they decided early on that if they were going to pursue this new venture, they wouldn’t have anything in their restaurant that wouldn’t be served at home. They opened the original location of Eli’s in 2014 in in Inverness, and it has been packed ever since.
Farm to table is not a buzzword that I heard Eli use, but his meticulous approach to procuring the finest ingredients expresses the purest spirit of that phrase. Eli found local sources of healthy ingredients such as fresh picked organic herbs and vegetables, fresh spices, grass-fed beef and lamb, and free range chicken. Nothing is ever frozen, and the shawarma is fresh built every day. Cuts of meat are different in the U.S. than Israel, so they worked with a local supplier for nearly a year to test various farms and cuts to develop meat for their shawarma that would be tender but not too soft and would hold the heat all day while maintaining the correct flavor. Eli explains that using fresh-picked spices is much more expensive but comes with no added salt and considerable more potency and flavor. Their Pocket Pitas are made fresh several times each day.
Eli and his staff pride themselves in being allergy friendly. All their food is non-GMO, and many gluten free options are available. Additionally, an AIP (Auto Immune Protocol) menu can be ordered once a week, directly through their website, which is launching soon. Eli and Laurel are very excited to be opening the second location of Eli’s Jerusalem Grill at The Pizitz Food Hall.