Inspired by Jewish delis in Montreal, the Mourning Dove Cafe features savory favorites such as shakshuka, roasted turkey sandwiches and brisket sandwiches.
Kirshtein is the wife of chef Eli Kirshtein, known for his time on “Top Chef” as well as his local restaurants. Life can be hectic with two chefs in the home, but she has managed to find the recipe for a successful career.
Now Kirshtein is stepping into the spotlight with her own venture, and so far, so good. The Mourning Dove is busy, even attracting celebrities such as Porsha Williams of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
It’s her first time running a restaurant solo, and the pastry chef-turned-restaurateur calls it an “interesting experience.” Sitting on the cafe patio with her Big Green Egg and colorful tulips, Kirshtein talked to the AJT about the restaurant and her involvement in the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, happening May 31 to June 3.
AJT: Tell me about the menu at the Mourning Dove. It’s small but unexpected. How did you decide what to offer?
Kirshtein: So I visited Montreal a lot. And they have a big Jewish community. I was inspired by the Jewish delis there. We do bagel sandwiches, and we do a brisket sandwich that’s really awesome. We also do different variations of Jewish deli food, like beet soup. I like doing savory food even though I’m a pastry chef. We did brisket yesterday, and the smell of the brisket brings a lot of people in. We roast our turkeys in the Big Green Egg.
AJT: What are some of the Jewish or Israeli-inspired foods on the menu?
Kirshtein: I love potatoes, and I love latkes. There is a traditional French technique that makes potatoes crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle. It’s like a latke, so I make it the same sort of way with grated apples, onions and chicken on top. On the weekends we make it with brisket, a runny egg and huge, fat potato pancake. On the menu it’s called chicken poutine, but I think we’re going to call it our breakfast plate.
We make our own sourdough in house. So we toast the sourdough with spring Vidalia onions to make harissa, a condiment with roasted onions. It’s spicy like schug. We sweat the onions down with fresh garlic, roast a bunch of jalapenos, steam them, and we add it to the onions. We puree it so it’s like paste on top of the sourdough.
What I’ve noticed is in North Africa and the whole section of the Middle East they use lot of the same ingredients.
AJT: How do you make your shakshuka?
Kirshtein: We use roasted red peppers, roasted carrots, onions roasted, spring garlic, tomatoes, and then traditional spices like cumin, caraway and coriander, so that’s the base. Then we bake an egg into it, and that gets finished with cured egg yolks on top with oil and za’atar.
AJT: Have you had to change the menu since you opened?
Kirshtein: We started with a buttermilk biscuit in the morning with pork sausage, and no one ordered it Then we switched to chicken sausage, and people love it. I asked people why, and some of it is religion. We got a lot of Jewish people and Muslims, but mostly people just don’t eat pork anymore. You see it so much. I get my chicken sausage locally from Pine Street, and it is so delicious. They grind it every single week.
AJT: This was formerly Corso Coffee. They closed down. How will you do things differently?
Kirshtein: It’s a really great location. We get a lot of foot traffic. The marble floors, tiles and the big art deco light was already there. I ripped out the back bar because it was too busy. I wanted a place where people could come have some lunch, relax and drink a glass of wine without being overwhelmed. There were only 30 seats inside; there was really no place to sit. Now we have 70 seats. I love the chairs because you have a place to rest your arms while you work on your laptop. Everything is super comfortable and super cozy. I wanted a place where people could go sit on the patio, look at some flowers and work on their laptop.
AJT: What do you think makes the Mourning Dove Cafe stand out?
Kirshtein: The Shops take care of all the plants. They’re so pretty. We have an awesome patio, but it’s kind of tucked away and secluded. All our wines are pretty affordable at $60 and under. They’re all natural, biodynamic and organic, so we really pay attention to how the soil is being treated. We have grapefruit mimosas, strawberry mimosas, and use fresh fruits, so it’s whatever is in season. We get everything locally, including our meats, and all the animals are taken care of humanely. All of the bread is made in house, including the bagels.
AJT: How has it been running your own restaurant?
Kirshtein: It’s the first restaurant I’ve had by myself. It’s been really amazing doing stuff on my own. It’s been really interesting being the female running things. We’ve had painters, workers and people always ask for the guy in charge. Even when I’m on the Egg, people will come and ask who’s in charge, and I say, “Me.” Some guy actually laughed at me about being this little girl working on a big grill.
I’m a very quiet and calm person. I think it’s kind of funny because most of my staff is male. People will come in and zoom right to them and they have to say, “She’s right here.” It’s interesting.
AJT: How long have you and Eli been married?
Kirshtein: I’ve been married to Eli for five years, but we’ve been together for 10 years. We met at McCrady’s in the kitchen of chef Sean Brock in Charleston. We’re really focused on our careers. In the restaurant industry we’ve each always had our own paths. I was at a stage where you work for free in the restaurant industry to find out if you want to work in the kitchen and if the management staff wants you. I was staging for Richard Blais in Atlanta, and Eli was one of the chefs working for him. I got the job and came back to Atlanta, where I was working at the restaurant, and Eli was around a lot.
AJT: What will you being doing at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival?
Kirshtein: I’ve been participating in the Food & Wine Festival since it started. I usually do a private dinner in a restaurant or a private dinner at Loews on Friday or Saturday night. I think I’m doing a private dinner here at Mourning Dove with something on the patio. We’re going to get some wine and grill on the Egg. I’m also doing a class.
AJT: What’s your vision for the cafe as it evolves?
Kirshtein: We’re going to be doing plated desserts and rolling out an ice cream machine. I’m adding a couple more things I’m excited about, like salads. There’s a restaurant I worked at in New York where they did a roasted carrot salad with seeds, avocado and crème fraiche. I like fresh ingredients, spices, and I like to use one herb that’s going to make it pop.
Starting in May, we’re going to host weekly dinners on Fridays. We’re going to break bread, and there’s going to be no cellphones. It’s just about spending time with different people in the community and reflecting on the week Everything is going to be family style with people passing around plates. The idea is basically the concept of Shabbat. We want to get more people in the community to spend time with different people and have a day of reflection without being on your phones.