Half an hour from Hatzarfatia Haktana (The Little Frenchwoman) I asked Idan if he was hungry yet. “No really, but what does it matter? I mean, there’s not going to be anything good to eat in Afula!” An hour later he was eating his words along with a thick slice of freshly baked bread slathered in butter, an enormous plate of delicious halumi cheese pasta ‘salad’, and half a tasty spinach pie.
We had been warned that Fridays were busy, but were nevertheless surprised to discover that this charming and French provincial style café-restaurant was packed to the rafters, with a few parties waiting to be seated. Hatzarfatia Haktana is the place to lunch and brunch in Afula. There were families, young couples, and even a group of teenage girls celebrating a birthday. After a short wait at the small bar, where we were happily received and watered by the young smiling barista, owner Dganit showed us to our table.
We opened our menus and started reading. And reading, and reading. It was tough deciding what we wanted with such a long menu of appealing options. Sandwiches, salads, warm salads, gratin potatoes, blintzes, quiches, meat dishes, soup, and the coolest-ever breakfast menu which allows the customer to compile their own classic Israeli breakfast by checking desired boxes on a categorized (eggs, cheese, fish, veg, etc) breakfast order sheet. Upon the third return of our patient waitress we ordered the pasta salad (a deceptively simple name for this one-of-a-kind dish) and the spinach quiche. We also ordered bread, coffee (a short espresso with hot milk on the side for me) and a lemon-mint granita for Idan (an odd choice for such a dark rainy afternoon – but that didn’t stop me from stealing sips).
The bread (granary in this case, but available in multiple varieties) arrived warm, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside – the perfect fresh start to our winter meal. Then came the spinach pie – a flavourful and not too rich quiche-like dish, but with more of a yeasty, rather than shortbread, crust. Finally, the ‘salad’ arrived. I’ll start by saying that salad is a major misnomer. This dish, consisting of a thin bottom layer of fresh salad veg, a second abundant layer of hot pasta of your choice (fettuccine was ours), then an army of simultaneously chewy and melt-in-your mouth deep fried halumi cheese cubes with sautéed mushrooms, onions, cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and basil in a soy cream sauce. What?!? Yes, you read right – we also were skeptical about this seeming brick-a-brack of a dish despite our waitress’ high recommendation. Not only did it work, but it was addictively delicious and the perfect belly warming dish.
Despite only ordering two dishes and some bread, we needed some serious breathing time (and some more of the café’s excellent espresso – they serve Mauro) before sampling dessert. We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the amazingly serene atmosphere. Amazing because despite a full house on the busiest day of the week, all was cool, calm and running smoothly at Hatzarfatia Haktana – just the sort of place you want to curl up in for a while to let the weekday stress melt away. The cheese mousse dessert that arrived also helped with the stress melting. Like all the desserts on the menu, it was made in house.
Heading back to the car (parked right in front of the restaurant in an ample and free parking lot – Toto, I don’t think we’re in Tel Aviv anymore) Idan and I marveled over our excellent meal. Contrary to the pre-judgment of my redeemed big-city-centric partner, there is indeed something great to eat in Afula.
Hatzarfatia Haktana (The Little Frenchwoman)
5 Shprintzak St., Afula.