Let me start off by saying that I’m not even sure this place is called The Castle. It may also be called The Fortress, The Tower, or something else entirely. The sign is in Russian and we were given no menus during our visit. Whichever the case I’m not the kind of person who can resist a restaurant that advertises good beer and looks like it was transported from the Middle Ages. It turned out to be a good impulse.
A friend of ours had already stumbled across this mysterious palace of a beer hall and given it the thumbs up. We weren’t sure what to expect – knights jousting? Liters of beer? Kielbasa? When we showed up on a Monday night the waiter showed us into a small room in the front with three tables and walls lined with beer bottles. We were the only ones; our own private dining room. While this was all very cozy we were disappointed not to see what lay in the rest of the castle. When we (or rather our Hebrew-speaking friend) inquired the waiter informed us that the majority of the restaurant is only open on Thursdays and Fridays.
Then he offered to give us a tour. Turning on lights and music, he left the operational part of the restaurant unattended to show us around. The back proved to be everything we could have hoped for and more. There is a fountain with a beer tap built in. The inside has a courtyard-like feeling and a series of small rooms. Rather than the German beer halls I’ve experienced with long, communal tables, this one is meant for private celebrations among friends.
Our enthusiastic waiter tells us there’s karaoke on Thursday nights. He excitedly informs us that we can bring our own cds and they will play whatever you want to sing along to. And then he gave us a history lesson: It turns out that hundreds of years ago this was someone’s residence, a real castle. Only one original wall remains and it has been a bar for 200 years.
Enough about the design. Onto the food. The waiter led us back into our little room and recited the available beers to us. A nice selection of six or so Czech and Belgian beers on tap – a refreshing change from the usual Gold Star and Tuborg. To start we got chips (fries) and something he just said was bread with garlic. The waiter – who it turns out is also the cook – disappeared in the back and returned with a heaping basket of fries covered in garlic and cheese and a small dish of brown bread. These croutons turned out to be crispy on the outside with and soft inside; doused in garlic we went through about three orders. The perfect bar snack.
The fries are no less amazing. In Be’er Sheva soggy wedges of potato count as “chips” and are served next to shawarma or stuffed into your falafel. These were proper fries. Fried to golden brown, thin, crunchy, and on top of all of that smothered in garlic and a mild white cheese. What could be bad? We got another order.
For the main event, the waiter told us, in Hebrew, that we could have chicken, pork, sausage, shrimp, or skewers. That’s it. No menu. No fancy descriptions. We all took our chances and ended up with everything on the menu. The sausages were oddly sliced and deep fried hot dogs. The chicken and pork were thin escallops that came with rice, the most complete meal at the table.
But besides the croutons and fries the absolute, undeniable star of the evening was the shrimp. It didn’t look pretty, covered in a thick, creamy sauce. But besides the thrill of finding these forbidden insects of the sea on an Israeli menu, they tasted amazing. The shrimp were firm and fresh and the sauce – we spent a long time trying to figure out what was in that sauce. The flavors kept evading us. Did I just taste a hint of vanilla? Paprika? Yogurt or cream? We didn’t figure it out, just ended up licking the sauce with our fingers. The shrimp came with two dipping sauces that not only weren’t necessary, but detracted from the overall experience. Ignore them.
I have no idea how much individual things cost since we were never given menus. I just know that my two beers, more than my share of fries and croutons, and the shrimp came to 200 shekels including tip (about $55). Another expensive night in Be’er Sheva, but well worth it. Next time I would be happy with beer, chips, and bread. Ok, and maybe some shrimp for the table.
The Castle (or The Tower, or The Fortress), Yair Avraham Stern Between Hertzl and HaHistridrut Streets, 054-6573553
**Photos by Beth Ebin**