A taste of Israel returns to the Beltline amid pandemic, curfew

Rina Owner Tal Baum and Executive Chef Brandon Hughes. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.
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Rina Owner Tal Baum and Executive Chef Brandon Hughes. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

With Rina, Israeli-born restaurateur Tal Baum wanted to bring to Atlanta the kind of sunny, playful restaurant you would find on the beaches of Tel Aviv. Little did she know the restaurant's Beltline-hugging patio would be the perfect pandemic-era pickup point for customers ordering food and drinks to go.

Rina interior Dining area inside Ford Factory Square. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.
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Rina interior Dining area inside Ford Factory Square. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

Up a flight of stairs from the main dining room, the takeout station is equipped with a dumbwaiter. That means the falafel, hummus and pita can ride up from the kitchen, rather than being carried by human hands. Servers pass the boxed food through an open window, which means that customers approaching via the Beltline need never set foot inside.

This takeout spread from Rina includes chicken amba, beef kebabs, hummus and pita, tabbouleh, fries, falafel, chickpea and date salad, and Israeli salad. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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This takeout spread from Rina includes chicken amba, beef kebabs, hummus and pita, tabbouleh, fries, falafel, chickpea and date salad, and Israeli salad. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

After suspending operations for two months in the wake of COVID-19, Baum reopened all four of her restaurants — Bellina Alimentari at Ponce City Market, Aziza and Fafafel Nation on the Westside, and Rina at Ford Factory Lofts — for curbside pickup on May 18. She has staggered the relaunch of dining rooms. On Friday, Aziza, which serves contemporary Israeli cuisine in an upscale setting, with casual sister establishment Falafel Nation next door, will be the last of Baum’s Oliva Restaurants group to resume table service.

Takeout servings of amba chicken and beef kebab on grilled flatbread from Rina both were excellent. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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Takeout servings of amba chicken and beef kebab on grilled flatbread from Rina both were excellent. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Just as Rina allowed guests back in this past Saturday, it had to close early, so that employees could get home before the citywide 9 p.m. curfew imposed after Friday’s protests against police violence took a destructive turn. “Thank God, our businesses were not physically hurt,” Baum said. “But, having to shift and operate while we have another crisis going on makes things extremely difficult for everybody.”

For Baum, who moved to Atlanta in 2013, and opened her first restaurant, Bellina, two years later, the events were shocking. "I'm originally from Israel. I'm very used to seeing the military in the street, and police presence and soldiers. But, to see those soldiers having to be there to protect our own citizens and to fight our own citizens, this is the part that breaks my heart the most."

You can choose from six different mezzes at Rina. Shown here: Israeli salad, chickpea and date salad, and tabbouleh. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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You can choose from six different mezzes at Rina. Shown here: Israeli salad, chickpea and date salad, and tabbouleh. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Yet, for all the issues, Baum is happy to be back in the business of feeding people. More than half of her approximately 120 employees have returned to work.

Oliva Restaurants will follow the same reopening guidelines as other eateries around the state, with some added touches.

“We came up with systems of how the server is going to present silverware, and drop the plates on the table,” Baum said. Aziza will use menus only once, but they’ll be personalized with guests’ names, and treated as souvenirs. Before dinner, patrons can check in outside, and have a drink while they wait.

The hummus plate No. 1 at Rina comes with crispy chickpeas, pickled veggies, slaw, a hard boiled egg, plus pita and raw veggies for dipping. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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The hummus plate No. 1 at Rina comes with crispy chickpeas, pickled veggies, slaw, a hard boiled egg, plus pita and raw veggies for dipping. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

One thing that won’t change is the Israeli style of sharing hummus and pita. Baum said she feels most people who are comfortable sharing a table will be comfortable sharing plates. “We want to keep the essence of our cuisine, and the type of dining experience, as authentic as possible,” she said, “because we feel like people are looking for that when they come to our restaurants. They want to have that shared experience.” If not, the kitchen graciously will split portions.

And, if that’s not good, consider takeout. Rina has a great setup.

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RINA

Menu: casual Israeli menu, scaled back just slightly

What's new: a lamb burger

Alcohol: entire drink menu — beer, wine, cocktails, shakes and frozen drinks — available for takeout

What I ordered: amba chicken; beef kebab; three-mezze combo, with chickpea and date salad, Israeli salad, tabbouleh; hummus plate No. 1 (with crispy chickpeas, hard-boiled egg, pickles, slaw and tahini); side of falafel; fries. The food was mostly exceptional. I loved the spiced Persian rice and charred veggies that came with the chicken almost more than the bird. Salads were fresh and lovely. The one thing that did not travel so well was the falafel; it tends to dry out, though you can mash it up and slather it with tahini (which comes on the side) and hummus. The only disappointment was the pita, more dry and dull than soft and pillowy. With food this delicious, you can't help but want better.

Service options: dine-in; takeout; no delivery

Safety protocols: follows all CDC and state guidelines

Address, phone: 699 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta; 404-343-0362

Hours: 12-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays; 12-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Website: rinakitchen.com

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