Atlanta Orders In: Alpharetta’s Vertigo Cafe offers some unusual Israeli specialties

This takeout spread from Vertigo Cafe includes (clockwise from upper left): ziva with accompaniments; falafel; Greek salad; hummus and pita. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
This takeout spread from Vertigo Cafe includes (clockwise from upper left): ziva with accompaniments; falafel; Greek salad; hummus and pita. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The pandemic has not stopped the arrival of new restaurants in Atlanta.

Just ask The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Yvonne Zusel, who has documented the barrage of pizza, seafood, steak and breakfast joints fearlessly opening in recent months. Truth is, there’s a certain sameness to a lot of them. So, when Yvonne told me about a month-old Alpharetta spot offering a version of the flaky Yemenite bread malawach, I knew I had to try it.

That’s how I discovered Vertigo Cafe, the quirky mom-and-pop that Lyndsay and David Dueve fashioned from the neighborhood pizza parlor they operated in the same location for 20 years. Vertigo may be the only place in town where shakshouka and bourekas coexist with chicken wings, paninis and chicken salad worthy of a Southern tearoom.

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Alpharetta’s Vertigo Cafe makes a version of the Yemenite flatbread malawach — they call it ziva and it’s served with the traditional accompaniments of Israeli salad, boiled egg and crushed tomatoes. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Alpharetta’s Vertigo Cafe makes a version of the Yemenite flatbread malawach — they call it ziva and it’s served with the traditional accompaniments of Israeli salad, boiled egg and crushed tomatoes. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

What’s going on here?

Turns out, David is an Israeli-born restaurateur who met Lyndsay in her native South Africa. When they moved to Atlanta, they opted to play it safe, with a fast-casual pizza concept. A bit weary of it all, they recently elected to do a total rebranding.

They considered calling it Cafe Fusion, which certainly would have been true to the mishmash of Middle Eastern, North African, European and American culinary influences. In the end, they settled on Cafe Vertigo, which Lyndsay said is in tribute to the strange, vertiginous roller-coaster that has been 2020.

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Vertigo Cafe makes a really nice chicken-salad sandwich with pecans and dried cranberries; it’s enough to feed two people. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Vertigo Cafe makes a really nice chicken-salad sandwich with pecans and dried cranberries; it’s enough to feed two people. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“Because Israel is so eclectic, and because South Africa also is just a melting pot, we can introduce the foods that we know the American market will love,” she said.

As a former pizzeria, Vertigo has adapted its salads, sandwiches, pies and calzones to make clever use of a pantry of Mediterranean staples (tomatoes, basil, mozzarella). From the Mideast, they’ve added hummus, falafel and ziva, which is their take on malawach, a flatbread brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews.

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You can make a meal off the $7 Meatball Delight appetizer from Vertigo Cafe. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
You can make a meal off the $7 Meatball Delight appetizer from Vertigo Cafe. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

It resembles a pancake, but is made from thin layers of buttery puff pastry. While the bread traditionally is served plain, with boiled egg, spicy zhug and grated fresh tomatoes on the side, the Dueves give it a twist: They stuff it with virtually any of their pizza toppings, and fold it into a half-circle.

I drove out to Alpharetta on a quest for ziva. Would it be anything like the malawach I tried last year at a tiny spot in Tel Aviv? I requested mine with feta and mushrooms, brought it home, and dug in.

Lyndsay Dueve and her husband, David, recently converted their Alpharetta pizza parlor into Vertigo Cafe, which serves an eclectic mix of American, European and Middle Eastern food. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Lyndsay Dueve and her husband, David, recently converted their Alpharetta pizza parlor into Vertigo Cafe, which serves an eclectic mix of American, European and Middle Eastern food. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Dolloped with a bit of the super-fresh tomato puree, it was sensational. I also loved the little cup of Israeli salad that came on the side. A fine chop of tomato, cucumber, onion, bell pepper and parsley dressed simply with lemon and oil, this versatile salad is the pico of Israel, and Vertigo gets it just right. I also was smitten with my falafel, served in a personal pizza box, with puffy pita, hummus, Israeli pickles and more of that salad.

I also snagged an order of Meatball Delight (three giant meatballs that are split open, stuffed with mozzarella and slathered with tomato sauce) and a Greek salad. Both were delicious, even for supper the next night.

Vertigo Cafe in Alpharetta is located in a former pizza parlor. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Vertigo Cafe in Alpharetta is located in a former pizza parlor. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

The offering that surprised me most turned out to be that very Southern chicken salad, which I ordered on toasted French bread. The giant sandwich, enough for two, spilled over with a chunky melange of shredded chicken breast, cranberries, celery, pecans and the proper amount of mayo.

The vegan and gluten-free crowd will not go wanting here, either. For the vegans, Lyndsay told me she makes her butternut-squash and tomato-basil soups with coconut cream, instead of dairy. The gluten-free falafel is bound together with rice flour, instead of wheat.

It would be easy to dismiss Vertigo as just another generic restaurant in a suburban strip mall. That wouldn’t be fair. It’s an original cafe with more than generous portions of fresh, affordable food, and one Israeli dish you aren’t likely to find anywhere else in town.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

VERTIGO CAFE

Menu: mix of American, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare

Alcohol: full bar

What I ordered: falafel, ziva with feta and mushrooms, hummus, Meatball Delight, Greek salad, chicken salad sandwich. Very good experience, though the promised sandwich chips and zhug for the ziva were omitted

Service options: dine-in; takeout; delivery via GrubHub

Patio: yes

Mask policy: staff wears masks; patrons are not required to do so, though most do, according to the owner

Address, phone: 11770 Haynes Bridge Road, Alpharetta; 770-663-3812

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Website: vertigo-cafe.com

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