New Main Line eatery Zagafen offers kosher, Italian-inspired noshes

Hadas Kuznits
September 06, 2019 - 6:00 am

Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — If you're craving a little Italian nosh, say ciao to the latest restaurant in Merion Station, Zagafen.

The new kosher, Italian-inspired eatery recently opened on the Main Line, at 370 Montgomery Ave., across the street from the kosher Dairy Cafe, which closed last year.

The restaurant, which neighbors a large Orthodox Jewish community, is almost like two restaurants in one. In order to follow Jewish dietary observance, or kashrut, dairy and meat dishes — specifically, Zagafen's fish menu — are prepared in separate kitchens.

It's run by the same restaurant group that owns Zavino at 13th and Sansom streets.

"The dishes are pretty much exactly the same (as those at Zavino), and we're kosher," continued Meir Leibowitz, the masgiach, or rabbinical supervisor, at the restaurant.

The kosher kitchens are separated based on a cholov menu and a cholov Yisroel menu, which follows stricter kosher laws.

"We have two separate menus, two separate (sets of) dishes, and also in the back we have completely separate kitchens," added Leibowitz.

General manager Lauren Alloway noted the name comes from a blend of Italian and Hebrew.

"You can't use the word 'Zavino' — which means 'za' from 'pizza' and 'vino' being wine. So we took 'Zagafen,' being that (the word 'gafen') derived in Hebrew means the 'grape on a vine,' " she explained.

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Alloway said a few menu items are definitely standout dishes: "The ricotta — that is a fan favorite in all of our restaurants. We have an eggplant Parmesan, we fill it up with ricotta and mozzarella. We bake it. There's a really great tomato vodka sauce on top, and then we top it off with Parmesan cheese, and then we also have a smoked salmon pizza."

To keep their kosher certification, Zagafen closes on Shabbat — from Friday to Saturday at sundown — which are the busiest days in the restaurant industry. At least for Alloway, that means she's always off for the weekend.

"This is the most I've ever had a great work life and personal life balance," she said.

For more on the different levels of kashrut observed at Zagafen, and to find out what the busiest day of the week is at the new eatery, listen to the What's Cooking podcast on the RADIO.COM app.