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A Taste of the Galilee

The Sea of Galilee, delicious grilled meat, and exciting tales of Israelís early years all can be enjoyed at the Decks restaurant. by Yael Kalev

Tiberias has never been considered a culinary center. Truth be told, other than its religious and historic sites, Tiberias does not offer much to visitors, especially those in search of the good life.


For the past two years, however, the Kinneret Food Festival has brought the publicís attention to the areaís unique agricultural products Ė the fish, the dates, and the goatís milk cheese. The festival was followed by a series of weekends featuring culinary tours, cooking and baking workshops, and lectures. Local restaurants joined the party as well by creating special menus highlighting local delicacies for participants in the culinary events. The festival apparently was the result of the pride that many Galilee restaurants take in their region; every restaurant worthy of its name brags about the local products it uses and a wine menu that consists mainly of the best wines made in the Galilee and the Golan Heights.


The dining room at Decks. (Tagist Ron)


The culinary buzz in the Galilee means that diners in search of a gourmet meal can find more than a few restaurants that meet and exceed their expectations. One of them is the Decks restaurant, which is located in Tiberias at the Lido Beach on the Sea of Galilee. Decks offers an incomparable dining experience. It has been operating for a decade, which is a lifetime for a restaurant anywhere in Israel, especially in the Galilee. It has become such a phenomenon that it is on the list of must-see sites in Tiberias, along with the Scots Hotel, which is conveniently located across the street.


Guards and Rioters


First and foremost, Decks is the latest chapter in the story of a family that has made its home on the shores of the Sea of Galilee for nearly a century. Eitan Gross, the owner of Lido Beach, grew up in Mitzpe, an agricultural community (moshav) that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. One of the first moshavim founded in the Lower Galilee, Mitzpe was established in the early twentieth century by young, fearless pioneers. They fought against the odds to build a Jewish home in the Land of Israel in the midst of Arab villages during a period when anti-Jewish riots were the order of the day. Mitzpeís founders included Tzvi Gross, Eitanís father. There are more than a few stories about him. Tzvi Gross is said to have been a commanding figure and intrepid traveler Ė a sort of Alexander Zeid of the Lower Galilee. He joined the Shomrim, an organization of Jewish guards who defended the isolated settlements in the region. Riding his beloved horse Abira (Hebrew for knight), Tzvi Gross would patrol the highways, securing them against marauders and rioters.


Mitzpe is located about 85 meters above the Sea of Galilee, on the Poriya Ridge to its north. In the beginning, Mitzpe was plagued frequently by drought. When the moshavís wells were dry, Tzvi Gross would ride his horse down to the lake, let her drink her fill, wash her, fill up canteens, and return home. His ability to travel relatively easily gave birth to a business: he would transport people and packages around the country on a horse-drawn wagon.


After World War I, when the British took control of the Land of Israel, life became slightly more relaxed. In the 1920s, the Lido Club, a club for British officers, was established on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The locals werenít welcome in this exclusive club, but Mitzpeís representative to the British authorities, Tzvi Gross, received special permission to come. He sometimes even brought his young son Eitan.




As he grew older, Eitan Gross joined his father in the transportation business. On one trip, he gave a ride to Esther, who is the daughter of one of the moshavís founding families. She sat in the back of the wagon and, at some point in the journey, she fell out of the wagon. Eitan didnít even notice. He drove all the way home before he realized she was missing. When he went back to search for her, he found her sitting on a rock by the side of the road and crying. This was the unlikely beginning of a love story that ultimately gave birth to the phenomenon of the Lido Beach and the Decks restaurant.


An Empire is Born


When the British left in 1948, the Lido Club was forgotten. Soon all that remained of it was a ruin. However, Esther, who enjoyed fishing, loved the site of the Lido and Eitan realized the siteís commercial possibilities. He bought the property and opened an organized beach for swimming complete with a kiosk and other amenities. He soon also bought a boat that would set sail from the beach and offer dance cruises. The positive response led him to buy another boat; today the Lido Beach has a fleet of 12 boats that host cruises, parties, and special events for thousands of visitors from around the world every year.


After the shipsí success, the Grosses tried their luck in a new area Ė restaurants. In 1986, they opened Pagoda, a kosher Chinese restaurant. For many years it was considered the best restaurant in the area. Their next venture was Habait restaurant (the house restaurant), a less-kosher version of the Pagoda (since it is open on the Sabbath), followed by Decks, which became a sensation.


Meat Anyone?


Ido Gross, a quiet, introverted member of the fourth generation of the Gross family who loves the sea and nature, is responsible for Decks. To a certain degree, Decks is his work of art. It is a grill restaurant.




The idea of grilling meat over coals came from the familyís desire to open a kosher meat restaurant that would cater to the many tourists who come to the area. The main problem with kosher meat is that the standard process for koshering meat often dries it out and changes its flavor. Ido Gross wanted to avoid this problem and found that one method for koshering meats is simply grilling them over an open fire. When this is done, the steps of salting and soaking it can be skipped and the meat maintains its juicy texture. So Decks turned the main obstacle posed by koshering meat into an advantage by deciding to serve grilled meat, poultry, and fish. This decision, combined with the homemade charcoal that adds a unique smoky flavor and aroma, guarantees that the meat that Decks serves has no equal. ...


Deckís portions are generous. They are served with a smile by a small army of efficient waiters. In general, grilling meat demands a certain degree of theatricality in both presentation and serving. One of the special dishes I tasted on a recent visit to Decks was mallard breast with wine and honey sauce. The partially cooked meat was sliced before our eyes and then finished on a small grill that was placed on our table. Itís a wonderful experience to watch food cook when you donít have to prepare it. We watched the slices of mallard breast absorb the smoke from the charcoal and listened to the sound of it cooking. The final step was watching the sauce be poured over the meat. The result was absolutely delicious; the sauce added a light, sweet touch to the meatís smoky flavor.


Along with excellent cuts of different types of meat and poultry, the menu at Decks includes fish, which the grill turns into a soft, juicy delicacy with a light smoky flavor. Decks also serves an excellent fish appetizer that has nothing to do with a grill Ė blue tuna fin carpaccio that is fresh from the Mediterranean Sea. It also offers vegetarian dishes such as a tasty onion loaf served with barbeque sauce and French fries with a special herb sauce.



Parting Words


Decks is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The large dining area spills into a huge wooden deck over the water. The location and the restaurantís resemblance to a ship make it a popular tourist site.



Decks, Lido Beach, Tiberias.

Tel. (04) 672-1538.



The full article appeared in ERETZ Magazine 107. To read it, subscribe to ERETZ Magazine.

Decks will be kosher for Passover and will be open on the intermediate days of the holiday.

Dining on the deck above the Sea of Galilee at Decks.


The full article appeared in ERETZ Magazine 107. To read it, subscribe to
ERETZ Magazine.





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