After trying Shimshon in Bend for the first time, I realized one of two things: that no other Israeli food could ever compare to what I just tried. Or, I’ve possibly been missing out on an entire genre of cuisine for over 30 years—and regretting it.
Shimshon brings Israeli cuisine to Bend
I first noticed the up-and-coming food cart when it filled a vacancy at the Midtown Yacht Club in late winter. While we’ve seen a boom in Mediterranean cuisine eateries, I wasn’t sure that I’d noticed an Israeli eatery, specifically.
Their menu features casual dining options like the Shimshon bowl, made with hummus, pickled veggies, greens, an Israeli marinated tomato and cucumber salad, and served with your choice of kebab and sauces. You can also choose from the Mezze sampler, which pairs your kebab choice with baba ganoush and feta, olives with almonds and Orange, Moroccan carrots with mint, and fried cauliflower with Tahina. (For clarification, tahina is a prepared sauce made with tahini, while tahini is the pure ingredient of pureed sesame seeds.)
But, it was the stuffed pita that really caught my eye. It’s loaded with hummus, pickled veggies, Israeli salad, fresh greens, amba, tahina, fries, and crumbled feta. It also includes your choice of falafel, kebab, or sabich (grilled eggplant with boiled egg). I was not prepared for the flavor explosion that I was about to experience.
I ordered the stuffed pita with the lemon garlic shrimp kebab and made it spicy. While I can’t imagine it getting better than these variations, I’m looking forward to trying it with sabich. And, because I believe in ordering a shared plate for the table, I included some ala carte offerings of flatbread and hummus, chicken kebab, and fries. I could have eaten the incredibly flavorful, juicy chicken kebab with airy flatbread and perfectly seasoned hummus and I would not have thought I was missing out on anything else. (Luckily, I now know that I absolutely would be missing out.)
How it all began
Steven and Amy Draheim opened Shimshon, an Israeli street food cart, in February of 2021 at Midtown Yacht Club. Many locals know Steven as the owner of Barrio, which now operates at three locations, including their downtown restaurant and two food trucks located at On Tap and Midtown Yacht Club, respectively. After purchasing a new food truck, the Draheims decided to try something different.
“We’d talked about a new concept, toyed with a few different ideas, and ultimately decided it was time to give the Israeli street food concept we’d been dreaming of, a try,” Amy reflected. “As restaurant owners, this year has been challenging, and yet, the food truck model has been a big part of keeping the ‘Barrio family’ afloat.”
Why Israeli street food
It’s not by chance that the Draheims chose Israeli cuisine for their next venture. The food cart pays homage to Amy’s heritage and her family, many of whom still reside in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The couple visited Tel Aviv in 2017. For Steven, a Bend native, it was the first time traveling to Israel.
“We’ve been lucky to travel all over the world, including a lot of time in Spain and Mexico, which has influenced our Barrio menus over the years, but it’s that trip to Israel that just sort of stuck with Steven,” said Amy. “We spent a week living in an apartment-style rental in Tel Aviv, two short blocks to Carmel Market, and two long blocks to the beach. From there, we’d grab bikes and cruise the boardwalk, exploring Jaffa. We ate at Hummus Abu Gosh, which the late great Anthony Bourdain called the best hummus in the world.”
So, it’s no wonder that this trip made a sizeable impression on Steven. His life’s work has heavily revolved around global cuisine.
Making the most of the pandemic
Fast-forward nearly four years to late 2020 when the idea of Shimshon started to come to fruition. Barrio had recently launched its second food cart at Midtown Yacht Club, and Steven was ready to try something new. For Steven, the affinity for Israeli cuisine began in 2017. But for Amy, it dates back to her childhood.
“My Dad’s side of my family still lives in Jerusalem, and I have fond memories of visits to my Savta’s (grandmother’s) apartment, where she fed us, and fed us, and fed us. At 80 years old, she’d still make her weekly trips to the shouk (market) for fresh produce, spices, and bags full of sunflower seeds for my Dad, and more. She’d feed us watermelon with Bulgarian cheese and mint on the couch, while American soap operas played in the background.”
While most of Steven’s family resides in Oregon, many of Amy’s family members are spread across the globe; she’s currently the sole member of her family living in Oregon. Needless to say, it’s left a massive void in her life. The second best way for her to feel connected to her family and heritage? Through the memories of food.
“One of the silver linings of the year has been celebrating individuality, and what better time to open a truck that was specific to my heritage? Second, being far away from my family, this truck was a way to bring us closer, if only through recipes. Finally, that time in Tel Aviv really had stuck with Steven, and when he started playing around with ingredients and recipes, let’s just say he fell hard. Israeli food draws influence from all over the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond,” Amy shared.
Honoring its namesake
Shimshon is a Hebrew name that means “bright sun” and has Biblical references to a hero with exceptional strength. Additionally, Amy’s Dad chose Shimshon as the honorary Hebrew name for Steven before their 2013 nuptials. The food cart’s logo, a pomegranate, pays homage to their days in Tel Aviv spent sipping on fresh pomegranate juice. This pastime often included soaking up the sun along the Mediterranean Sea and cruising the markets.
Amy muses that Shimshon might be the first Central Oregon eatery to outwardly label themselves Israeli cuisine. But she’s proud to be a part of a food collective in Bend that draws its influences from the Mediterranean. Think, Kebaba, Bo’s Falafel Bar, Joolz, and Kefi Fast Fresh Mediterranean.
“It’s a big undertaking to claim a cuisine and then live up to it, but it’s incredibly rewarding. We’ve met so many Israelis and people who have an affinity for Israel or Israeli food, who have come down to the truck and enjoyed the experience,” she said. “There’s something about that specificity, maybe it’s pride, or a feeling of shared identity. Whatever it is, we’re very happy to bring the tastes, smells, textures, and flavors of Israel to Bend.”
Stop by the food cart Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am until 8 pm. Shimshon/Barrio is also hiring for all of their food trucks and restaurant.