By Hyunjae Ham
“This is my second home,” says Miriam Zuares, a 74-year-old Israeli immigrant with a thick accent. Miriam, a retired caterer, has been a Nut House Pizza regular for fifteen years. Located in Wheaton, Nut House Pizza does not use real meat. According to former store associate and owner’s nephew Daniel Atkin, all of their meats are “vegetarian dairy soy,” a meat substitute that accommodates the kosher restriction of combining meat and dairy products. The store also specializes in soy cheese pizza for customers with lactose intolerance. Consequently, Atkin says Nut House Pizza attracts not only kosher customers, but customers with various dietary restrictions.
The store’s name comes from its history as a peanut shop under the Planter’s trademark that roasted its own peanuts and sold candy. Atkin claims Nut House Pizza was the first kosher restaurant in the DC/Metro area when it opened in 1984. Its most popular menu items are its fried dough and whole-wheat pizzas, Atkin says. The store takes pride in its “no frills” approach. “We are not looking for the whole image thing. People come in here because the laid-back atmosphere and good food. It’s a place you want to hang out at on a Saturday night,” Atkin says. Pointing to the 23 paintings that adorn the store’s walls, Atkin adds, “I drew all of those.”
“Good pizza, good service, nice guy by the name of Roberto, that’s why I come here,” Miriam says. She then turns to Roberto, a Nut House Pizza employee, and yells, “Look Roberto, I just complimented you. You better make that pizza good.”
Less than five minutes down the road is Max’s Kosher Café & Marketplace. Founded in 1994, Max’s is a deli that takes pride in its Middle Eastern falafel shawarma. Falafel Shawarma is a combination of fried ground chickpeas, mixed meats and vegetables placed in a pita wrap. “During lunch, people line up all the way to the door for the shawarma. The gentleman that works behind the counter has been doing this for 18 years,” says Store Manager Harold Burke.
According to Burke, owner Shaukat Karimi, started the restaurant after working in the deli department of a kosher grocery store. Max’s originally doubled as a kosher restaurant and store, but the store became so successful that Karimi decided to reopen it in a lot next door. Today, it is a full-fledged grocery store in Silver Springs named Shalom Kosher.
While most of Max’s customers are Jewish, Burke says they have seen more non-Jewish customers as a result of the recent redevelopment of Wheaton. Bowie State University biology major Aamir Abdul and his wife Jamie are Muslim-Americans who often come to Max’s because of their halal dietary restrictions. Kosher and Halal restrictions are similar. “To be honest there’s a lot of halal restaurants in the area too but I come here for the falafel shawarma,” Aamir says. “He gets the shawarma like three times a week,” his wife adds.
Sophomore economics major Alex Knickelbein began searching for kosher restaurants after participating in the MEOR Maryland birthright trip this past winter. “When I was in Israel I felt much more connected with my Jewish heritage and I wanted to further that connection back home,” he says. Alex recommends Eli’s Restaurant, a New York style sandwich and burger restaurant in Washington DC. “I was a big fan of their chicken breast sandwich and spicy potato wedges,” he says.
Alex’s birthright friend and sophomore finance major Eric Sharkey had quite a different experience at Eli’s however. According to Eric, “there was nothing special about the place other than the fact that it was kosher. The food was overpriced and the service was mediocre at best. I had to ask like five times for a refill.”
These are not the only kosher establishments in the DC/metro area. Wheaton is also home to The Kosher Pastry Oven, a high-end bakery that serves salads, soups and wraps for breakfast and lunch. Rockville is home to Siena’s Pizzeria, Goldberg’s New York Bagels, Café Shawreen and Moti’s Grill. In addition, on-campus diners have kosher options available, while MEOR Maryland, Chabad, and Hillel host Shabbat dinner every Friday.