If you observe kashrut or not, visit The Pantry Café at Northview

 

Christine DeSouza

The mural on the wall was designed and drawn by a student. (The big blue thing is an air conditioning vent).

Before this review could be written, news about The Pantry Café at Northview had already traveled to New York. The prestigious Jewish newspaper, The Forward, ran a short blurb by contributing writer Michael Kaminer in its Weekly Dish column, titled "A Muslim, a Jew and a Vegan walk into a restaurant..." which is the perfect introduction to this very new (it opened only a month ago) and very avante garde restaurant located in Northview, UCF's off-campus apartment building, located at 3925 Lockwood Boulevard, Oviedo. Food is a great barrier-breaker, and The Pantry has already opened the door to bonds between Jewish and Muslim students who come in and "break bread" together. What better way to bring unity among different cultures and religions than with food!

On Thursday, July 30, The Pantry Café had its mezuzah ceremony, officiated by Rabbi Dovid Yachnes of the Orlando Torah Center, with more than 100 people in attendance-a surprise to the restaurant's owner Alden Mamann, Central Florida Hillel CEO Aaron Weil and Hillel Director of Communications Sam Friedman.


Situated next to the Hillel office on the ground floor of the complex, The Pantry Café is easily accessible to all UCF students and Orlando area residents who want to enjoy well-prepared or ready-to-assemble kosher meals. It is Orlando's first kosher/halal/part-vegan eatery where Jews, Muslims, Vegans and just plain ol' American- (or Canadian-) cuisine lovers can enjoy a good meal.

The catchy name was thought up with the students in mind. Mamann explained that all the apartments at Northview have kitchens, and most of those kitchens are sparkling clean because few of the students prepare meals there-until now that is. According to Weil, about two-thirds of Northview residents don't have cars and the closest grocery store is a mile away. Now students can order food online, and run down to "The Pantry" to pick it up. They can also pick up read-to-assemble meals that they can prepare in their apartments at a later time (non-student patrons can do the same).

The decor is streamlined-modern with black and white checkered tile floors, sleek black granite counters, a hand-washing area, and tables with tech-savvy ordering pads. It's also a great place to relax (there is a lounge), hang out with friends, hook up on the WIFI, work, hold meetings (there is a separate "Think Tank" room), drink fabulous coffee and eat or nosh.

Speaking of noshing, the food is wonderful. I had a felafel burger with avocado aioli, coleslaw, hummus, pickles and pico de gallo on a pretzel bun. The only word that comes to mind is "yum." Also served was My Big Fat Greek Salad. True to its name, it is big enough for two and very tasty, with lots of feta cheese, olives and tomatoes with a vinaigrette dressing on the side. I brought it back to the office and shared it with Associate Editor Kim Fischer, who also enjoyed it.


I love French fries, and I enjoy them the "American way." You know, dipped in ketchup. Well, Mamann is a Canadian/Sephardic Jew, and he grew up with a dish called Poutine. The menu lists it as "Poutine, eh?" (very Canadian) and it is French fries with melted cheese and a light brown gravy. It was a crunchy, warm, cheesy delight to my palate. Other favorites on the menu include Mac n' Cheese Poppers (Friedman's favorite dish), sweet potato fries, mozzarella sticks and a variety of salads, as well as make-you-feel-like-you're-home sandwiches and entrees. Contents of menu items are clearly marked so making an informed dietary decision is easy. Which is important because The Pantry is certified kosher by the Orthodox Rabbinical Board, one of Florida's largest kosher supervision agencies. The restaurant also is working on getting Halal certification.

In fact, when plans were being discussed to have a privately owned kosher restaurant at Northview, Weil consulted with the ORB as to whom they would recommend to open a kosher restaurant. They immediately said Mamann, an Orthodox Jew who is president of a company in South Florida that manufactures and distributes kosher frozen foods.


Mamann set up a kosher kitchen that is next to none. Since many employees are not Jewish, he devised a color-coded system to insure kashrut is followed to the letter or color in this case: Blue for dairy; white for produce, grains and fruit; and red for meats, fish and poultry. There are three sinks for washing, each marked with its own color, and the stoves are marked as well as the prep areas and all the utensils. Nothing is cross-used with other sections of the kitchen.

And to make sure there are no mess-ups, Benjamin Klipper, a full-time mashgiach (Kosher supervisor) oversees all food preparation, and also assists with cleaning and preparations.

In addition to the kosher certification, The Pantry is working on getting Halal certification. "Our restaurant does not serve pork or pork byproducts whatsoever. Our fruits and vegetables undergo a rigorous inspection and washing process to ensure that no insects remain in the produce. In keeping with halal, we do not cook any of our foods using consumable alcohol," said Mamann.

UCF is the only university with a Kosher food program and The Pantry is the official Kosher catering facility in the area. It caters to events in a banquet hall on Northview's premises, where the UCF Foundation and T.O.P. Foundation held their spring meetings. Friday night Shabbat services are held in the banquet room that can seat 240.

Summer hours are Sunday through Thursday from noon to 7 p.m .; Fridays from noon to 5 p.m .; closed on Saturday. Check out hours in the fall online at http://www.pantryorlando.com. Orders can be placed online at the same website or by calling 1-844-yummyfood or 407-326-6806. Pay by credit card online and your order will be ready for pickup in a special holding area. No waiting for your food. Also, The Pantry has a rewards system. For every $50 spent, patrons earn $5 that is credited to a Pantry card. With the first order, patrons are given $25 credit toward the $50-halfway to earning rewards!

"So, perhaps we can't serve you a cheeseburger (not kosher) or a glass of wine with your meal (not halal) but we know that The Pantry is a great place to meet friends, enjoy a great meal and learn a little bit more about one another," Mamann said with a big smile.

Hey! Did you hear the one about the Muslim, the Jew and the Vegan who went to dinner? Well, they had a great time.

Shown here (l-r): Rabbi Dovid Yachnes, The Pantry owner Alden Mamann and Central Florida Hillel CEO Aaron Weil at the mezuzah hanging ceremony.

 

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