Hanukkah (or Chanukah) -- the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights -- begins at sundown on Saturday, December 8, this year and ends on Sunday, December 16. If you're planning a special feast to kick off or end the holiday, there are several places in town cooking up Jewish specialties to help you do just that. Even if you aren't Jewish, it's a great time to enjoy latkes (potato pancakes), matzo ball soup, and jelly donuts.
A traditional family-owned restaurant, Goldman's Deli serves latkes year round. Diners can order three latkes with applesauce or sour cream ($6.99) and a bowl of matzo ball soup ($4.99 small, $8.49 large), then can finish the meal with rugulach or sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Catered Hannukah meals are also available. Goldman's Deli is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 480-367-9477 to place an order.
Every year for Hanukkah, local bagel makers Chompie's provides a traditional holiday dinner. This year's menu of tender beef brisket with gravy, savory roasted chicken, apricot-glazed chicken, matzo ball soup, potato latkes with applesauce, string beans amandine, fresh-baked dinner rolls, and holiday cookies is available after 4 p.m. daily throughout Hanukkah. The meal is $15.95 per person, or $169.95 for a to-go package that will serve 12 to 15 people (24 hours' notice required). All items are available a la carte, as are extras like plain and raisin challah bread, traditional rye bread, sweet potato and spinach latkes, rugelach, chocolate bobka, and apple and cherry strudel. There are four locations in metro Phoenix; call the one nearest you to order.
We'll take any excuse to eat cake, and for Hanukkah, olive oil cake is the tastiest way to celebrate the miracle oil that burned for eight days and nights. Here in Phoenix, we have some of the best olive oil cake around: the cupcakes that helped Urban Cookies win Cupcake Wars. Made with local olive oil, this cupcake is infused with orange flavor, brushed with a honey glaze, and topped with rosewater buttercream. Call 602-451-4335 to order a dozen ($31.89).
Let's face it: latkes can be a bitch to make. Skip the mess of grating potatoes and attempting to bind them together by hand; instead, pick up frozen potato pancakes from Trader Joe's ($1.99/box). These might seem like nothing but a modern-day convenience, but they're made for the grocery chain using only natural ingredients and an old Eastern European recipe. Even if you aren't planning anything for Hanukkah, toss a box in your basket to enjoy with sour cream or applesauce. We swear by these, so pick up your stash now before we clear out every store in town.
How about a lot of Jews, booze, and schmooze this holiday season? Young Jewish Phoenix presents Mazelpalooza at The Mint in Old Town Scottsdale. This event takes place after the eight days of the Festival of Lights, so you don't have to worry about waking up the next morning with a guilt-ridden hangover. While all of your non-Jewish friends are celebrating Christmas Eve, you can get your davidic dance on at the club with hundreds of like-minded people -- and no, there won't be any singing of Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. Tickets are currently $25; after December 20, the price jumps $30.
On Sunday, December 9, enjoy the first afternoon of Hanukkah at MERKAZ marketplace, a craft and food fair organized by the Congregation Merkaz Ha-Iyr. The market will be open from noon to 4 p.m. at the southeast corner of Central and Northern Avenues, which is home to the Central Farmers' Market every Saturday. MERKAZ marketplace will have Hanukkah games, holiday gift items for sale (like chocolate gelt), prizes, and a raffle. There will also be food trucks and local vendors there serving a variety of cuisine.