You’d be hard-pressed to find another restaurant in Gainesville as accommodating as Sababa without skimping on flavor or variety. Whether you’re kosher, vegan or gluten-intolerant, it’s got you (and your taste buds) covered.
The menu, centered around traditional Israeli cuisine, features dishes that pay homage to a gamut of European cultures: Arab falafel, Yemen malawach, Greek shawarma, German schnitzel, Moroccan fish and Turkish coffee.
Previously located in the University of Florida Hillel, the restaurant moved to its current location in the downtown Sun Center in March 2015. Owners Riley and Yael Sullivan said the relocation has been phenomenal for their business.
“This is the epicenter of Gainesville restaurant culture, so it’s really cool to have a place down here,” said Riley, a Gainesville native.
The small dining area, which used to be a dance studio, is open and simply decorated: Wood tables and patterned chairs line a mirrored wall; on the opposite wall a metal pitcher and a printed Jewish prayer hang above a sink. If you would like to bless your food in the Jewish tradition, you can pour water from the pitcher on each hand three times, then recite the prayer before eating.
The couple renovated the space and built the furniture themselves. Yael said eventually they’d like to add a patio with outdoor seating and a late-night take-out window.
Yael’s mother — who was born in Israel and helped run the business at Hillel — created most of the dishes on the menu and taught Riley how to cook them.
“I’d never had falafel before I learned how to make it from Yael’s mom,” Riley said. “I’ve really fallen in love with the food.”
Following kosher guidelines, Sababa uses separate fryers for the meats. (They only serve chicken and fish.) And if you’re kosher? No problem: None of the dishes contain dairy, so there’s no worry about mixing it with meat. The falafel are made without flour, making them gluten-free.
Yael said she and Riley are natural business partners because they don’t like to do the same tasks. She handles the business side, and Riley does the cooking.
“If I don’t ever have to enter a kitchen, I’d be happy,” she said, laughing.
As for the name, Riley said the word sababa — Hebrew slang meaning “awesome” or “exciting” — is a common one for Israeli restaurants.
“You use it like you’d use ‘true’ or ‘word,’” Riley said. “It’s an affirmation of goodness.”
102 SE 2nd Pl. | 352-792-6043
Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sababa’s Israeli Bamia
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 12 ounces of okra (fresh or frozen and thawed)
- 16-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- squirt of lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 2 teaspoons of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of cumin
- pinch of sugar
- Heat tablespoon of olive oil on low heat
- Add onion and garlic, then sauteé for 5-6 minutes until nearly brown
- Add okra
- Add another tablespoon of olive oil
- Turn up heat, then cook for 8-10 minutes until okra cooks through and becomes crispy
- Add small squirt of lemon juice
- Add can of crushed tomatoes
- Season with salt, black pepper, cumin and a pinch of sugar (can adjust seasonings to taste)
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