Kibitz Café offers schmooze, schmears and lots more

Shawn Rimerman shows off a plate of Ken’s French Toast at the Kibitz Café Oct. 7. The monthly event is held by Men of Shaare Emeth (MOSHE). 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Acoustic guitar music fills the auditorium at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where ambient blue light helps set a festive mood. A gaggle of guys wearing bright yellow T-shirts, bedecked with the words “Cook,” “Eat,” “Kibitz,” and “Repeat” greet patrons, leading them to one of several large round tables, each covered with a blue cloth. Once seated, patrons are handed a menu to peruse. 

And, oh, the menu. Choices abound — so many, in fact, that one group of friends succumbs to that age-old decision making method, better known as eeny-meeny-miny-moe. Will it be Ken’s French Toast, Neil’s Belgium-Style Waffle or Shawn’s Salami & Eggs? No matter, each dish is a winner. 

Welcome to Kibitz Café, the first-Sunday-of-the-month breakfast pop-up from 8 to 10:30 a.m. presented by MOSHE, the men of Shaare Emeth. The brainchild of Ken Levine (of Ken’s French Toast fame), Neil Elias (a.k.a. Waffle man), Randy Brodsky and Shawn “Salami & Eggs R Us” Rimerman, Kibitz Café began in 2012 as an all-volunteer effort aimed at better engaging men at the temple while creating something for the entire Shaare Emeth community to enjoy. At the time, the four were officers on the temple’s men’s club board.

“Rabbi (Jim) Bennett came to the four of us, wanting help in reinvigorating the old brotherhood of Shaare Emeth, which dated back to the 1920s,” Levine explains, adding that men’s club bowling leagues and sports talk nights had “failed miserably” in the past. Ideas got tossed around. Then Levine, who spent 12 years as an chef in southern California, offered up the notion of a monthly breakfast café.

“We wanted to create an event that would bring the community of Shaare Emeth together,” says Levine, explaining that while most Kibitz Café patrons are Shaare Emeth members, it is open to the general public.

“I noticed there was literally 400 kids being dropped off every Sunday morning for religious school,” he continues. “I said, ‘Guys, what if we created a café where parents and congregants could come and have a real, cooked-to-order breakfast served on real china with real silverware?’”

Levine says temple leadership initially pushed back, concerned that a sit-down meal was too much. “They didn’t think we had the manpower for anything other than a buffet,” he says. “I said,  ‘We can make this happen.’”

Earlier this month, a steady stream of hungry diners pour into Kibitz Café, where breakfast entrees, including a slew of omelettes, lox platters and eggs dishes, range in price from $5.50 to $8.50. Each month features a special “handcrafted” item; today it’s shakshouka, a poached eggs and spicy tomato sauce concoction popular in Israel.

The first wave of diners is mostly religious schoolteachers, along with some students and their parents as well as a few senior early birds. Steve Lieberman and his sons, Eli, 13, and Ari, 16, are finishing chocolate-chip pancakes and Ken’s French Toast before the boys head to Sunday school –- Eli to the eighth-grade program and Ari to teach fifth graders. 

“There’s good food, good atmosphere and good value,” says Lieberman, explaining why he and his sons come to Kibitz, which takes place monthly from September through May. “They get to have breakfast with their dad while their mom is at work teaching Pilates at the J.”

Retiree Carl Moskowitz says he never eats breakfast except once a month when he comes to the Shaare Emeth café. His fave: lox, eggs and onions. “All that’s missing is a copy of The New York Times,” he adds.

His wife, Marcia, is partial to the omelettes, of which there are a half-dozen varieties. She enjoys the camaraderie along with her eggs, explaining that because the seating is family style, she and her husband have met people from the congregation they never knew before.

“They plop you down at a table and you begin talking. It’s a great way to meet new people,” she says. “Everyone just loves the food.”

Meanwhile, the temple’s kitchen is a beehive of activity, with about a dozen men clad in yellow shirts and aprons at various stations cooking eggs, mixing pancake batter, frying French toast, toasting bagels, scooping cream cheese onto plates and expediting orders. There’s plenty of schmoozing and joking around, too, but the group prides itself on serving meals within eight to 10 minutes of an order being placed.

Proceeds from MOSHE’s Kibitz Café help to fund various temple activities and causes, including lifecycle events and social justice initiatives. 

Typically, the café serves between 100 and 125 meals any given Sunday, though the most ever was 163. Next month might be a new record-setter, though. Rumor has it homemade cinnamon rolls are the special when the cafe opens for business Nov. 4. 

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