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Food24 eats at Teta Mari
On a beautiful winters’ day we settled for a little spot outside on the deck of this sleek, yet relaxed, setting. The interior is speckled with accents of turquoise and white, abundant with mirrors, chandeliers and fresh flowers, while wooden tables and simple seating make you feel right at home…that and the warm and welcoming smiles of Dianne and Sandy.
Dianne & Sandy are the dynamic duo behind ‘Teta Mari’, a small but bustling restaurant come deli in Illovo. In an industry still dominated by men these ladies are showing the restaurant world who’s boss.
The noise of expensive cars in the Illovo square parking lot briefly interfered with our enjoyment, but that was soon suppressed by the plethora of people (and such a refreshingly mixed bunch at that) pouring into fill the place. It was Saturday, it was packed and I am about to tell you why.
Before reviewing this gem, I looked online to find out a little something about it: the cuisine was described as ‘American’ AND ‘Mediteranean’ and I found this a little perturbing – I was imagining Burgers covered with olive tapenade and houllomi, but it’s nothing of the sort: The American influence stems from Dianne; she brings a New Yorkan flair that takes simple sandwiches and hot dogs and gives them that ‘Manhattan’ pizzazz.
The other side is not ‘Mediterarean’ but rather truly Israeli: Sandy’s falafel, koufteka and accompaniments scream of exceptional family recipes passed down through generations. And the combination of iconically sweet and savoury are a marriage made in heaven.
Unable to choose what to eat, we indulged in: an array of kouftekas, felafel, techina, hummus, Israeli salad, other pickles and delights: The pickled Aubergine is to die for, literally – my other half told me he would kill for it – I consequently let him finish the bowl.
The hummus and techina are smooth, rich and nutty and work perfectly with the crisp and delectable felafel and the tender, juice-laden kouftekas (meatballs).
The brisket sandwich – OH the brisket sandwich – a perfect combination of 50% rye, succulent brisket, American-style pickled cucumber, sweet mustard mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce – it’s difficult to explain how a sandwich can melt in your mouth but this one does. They pair their sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs with potato salad and coleslaw – a terrible idea if it’s not seriously good, but don’t fear as it is seriously good.
Freshly made green chilli on the side that was punchy but not overpowering.
We finished with The New York-style, baked cheesecake and coffees. The cheesecake was faultless; baked until just set with a perfectly crisp, but not too sweet base and a sweet and tangy sour cream topping that cut right through the richness of the cake.
We didn’t have a chance to try everything but witnessed NY-style hot dogs and Sloppy Joes served tongue-in-cheek with bags of big corn bites being served by the dozen. People were tucking into Prego rolls and succulent salads, while quite a few had just popped in for a cup of coffee and a chat. I will be back to try their breakfasts!
I liked the fact that the waiters all looked happy to be working there, but this is probably also to do with the fact that Sandy and Dianne are so hands-on. This is not just a job for these ladies – this is their lives: “You gotta love it, otherwise you can’t do it” Dianne tells me fondly, she points to Candice (Sandy’s daughter) in the kitchen and tells us that she is a driving force in the kitchen; making sure they run a tight ship.
This is a family business, Sandy and Dianne are cousins but they are also restaurant owners, managers, cooks and mothers – which is the key to why this is a such a successful restaurant. They make everything on site from scratch and you can taste it as well as feel it. This personal touch does come at a price though and you won’t find anything on the menu under R60, so be prepared to pay a little extra for that ‘little something extra’.
Even the name has a charming story behind it; Sandy’s grandmother lived in Israel, she was famous around town for both her cooking and her warm nature and so was given the nickname ‘Teta Mari’, ‘Teta’ an affectionate term for grandmother in Arabic and ‘Mari’ a shortening of her name ‘Mirium’.
They are doing the name justice; there is a lot of love flowing through this restaurant; it’s in the food, it’s in the care taken with each customer and the regulars’ faces who come back for more, again and again.