Ben’s R.I.P.

June 18th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Sad news. The Forward reported today that Ben’s deli in the Rego Park section of Queens has closed. That’s dreadful. During HG’s long career as a public relations counselor, HG was often in Rego Park where he met with real estate biggies, politicos and journalists assigned to the Queens beat. This was long before Queens (and Rego Park) became heavily internationalized and multi-ethnic, multi-lingual. Big Jewish population. At Ben’s, HG often lunched with HG’s long time client, the late real estate mogul Sam Lefrak (This was before Sam discovered his alleged French ancestry and changed his last name to the classier “LeFrak”). HG and Sam plotted PR maneuvers as they wolfed down giant pastrami and corned beef sandwiches plus French fries, potato salad and cole slaw. The beverage was Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic. They were often joined by another Ben’s habituee, the then Queens Borough President Don Manes (later a suicide as he faced corruption charges). Ben’s, Gitlitz (on Broadway and 79th), Second Avenue Delicatessen (when run by the late, tragically murdered Abe Lebewohl) were HG’s favorite New York Jewish delis. All gone. Jewish delicatessens are a vanishing species. Health reasons? Loss of Jewish identity? Assimilation? Fear of heartburn? Who know. Katz’s remains, of course. However, HG has never fancied Katz’s. Overrated.

BSK Burger Beats The Best

May 21st, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

New Yorkers are vociferous in lauding the town’s pastrami sandwiches. The sad truth is that the art of pastrami has been faltering in New York for years and it is now possible that the best of all pastrami is found at Langer’s, a traditional Jewish delicatessen in a shabby Los Angeles neighborhood. Runner up to Langer’s is Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen in Montreal, famed headquarters of Montreal Smoked Meat. Californians sneer at all hamburgers except those served at the California-Arizona-Texas fast food chain, IN-N-OUT. Angelenos become orgasmatic in describing the chain’s Animal Style cheeseburger. An HG pal said that when he lands at the LA airport after a trip east or abroad, his first stop (before unpacking) is at IN-N-OUT. “Must get my IN-N-OUT fix.” Yes, the chain makes a very good burger but BSK’s New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger tops it. BSK uses 80% lean-20% chuck. Dusts a big cast iron pan with sea salt. Turns the heat up high. Sears the burger on both sides. Tops the patties with abundant slices of Kraft Cracker Barrel Sharp Cheddar. Lowers the heat and cooks until the cheese melts and the interior is a juicy pink. Meanwhile, BSK is warming a saucepan of 505 Bottled Green Chile Sauce. The number 505 is the Santa Fe area code and this sauce is an authentic local product. Great flavor. Plenty of heat. No chemicals or artificial enhancers. BSK pours the sauce over the cheeseburger. Flanks it with home fried potatoes, gently caramelized onions, cole slaw. (HG likes a few smokey chipotle peppers on the side). No mushy hamburger buns. Just cold bottles of Anchor Steam Beer. Another BSK kitchen triumph.


Happy Heartburn

March 18th, 2015 § 3 comments § permalink

In HG’s various nostalgia drenched accounts of the long deceased Romanian-Jewish restaurants (called “Romanian Broilings”) of New York’s Lower East Side, HG failed to mention that Pastrami, the delectable, peppery smoked meat, was introduced to the United States by these restaurants. The delightful author, Patricia Volk, claims her grandfather, a Romanian-Jewish immigrant and proprietor of a Delancey Street delicatessen/eatery, was the first to serve Pastrami, therefore ushering in happy heartburns for generations of American Jews and discerning non-Jewish fressers. Food historians claim Pastrami derives from Basterma, a dried beef beloved by Turkish warriors who brought the delicacy to Romania. (Pastrami is mentioned, favorably, along with Mamaliga [polenta] and Karenezelach [ground beef, onion, garlic cigar shaped hamburgers] in the rousing Yiddish music hall favorite, “Romania, Romania”.) Alas, first rate Pastrami is now tough to find — beyond the speciality Jewish delis like Katz’s on Houston Street and Langer’s in LA, but the majority of Pastrami being served is commercially made and a pale comparison to the real thing. Patricia Volk’s grandfather started a great tradition. The family fed New York in splendid restaurants for 100 years. Morgen’s (closed in 1985), run by Patricia Volk’s parents, was an HG favorite. Located in the Garment Center, it was always filled with designers, lovely models and cloak-and-suit big shots. (Read Volk’s books, “Stuffed” and “Shocking Life.” Also, don’t miss books by Volk’s pal (and HG/BSK’s) Stephanie Pierson. She’s a world class wit. Her latest is “The Brisket Book.”).


The Goldsteins (R.I.P.): Porn & Pastrami

December 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Al Goldstein, the eccentric publisher of Screw magazine and pioneer of hard core, “non socially redeeming” porn is dead. At one point in his very checkered career (according to the Times obit) he was a “greeter” at the 2nd Avenue Delicatessen in New York. Only met Al once (when he was a deranged teenager) but his father, Sammy, was a pal. Sammy, a news photographer at International News Photos, loved to eat. (so did Al, who once weighed 350 pounds). When HG was a photo editor at INP, HG and Sammy (a pastrami addict), shared many meals at the 2nd Avenue Deli and Katz’s. (The duo also overate at Ratner’s, Sammy’s, Dubiner’s,Rappaport’s and other Lower East Side eateries). Sammy was a very good boxing photographer. HG has a vivid memory of Sammy at Madison Square Garden (then on 8th Avenue) ringside putting down his Speed Graphic between rounds to munch on (you guessed it) a pastrami on rye.


Schwartz’s VS Katz’s And The Verdict Is…

June 18th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Schwartz’s is better. Yes, HG loves New York and loves all the old time treats…but. For dinner HG slathered rye bread with yellow mustard and piled on lots of Schwartz’s smoked meat from Montreal’s famed “Delicatessen Hebraique.” Heartburn heaven. Yes, better than Katz’s pastrami. Tough to describe. Schwartz’s smoked meat is a brined, smoked and cured brisket seemingly existing at the cross roads between pastrami and corned beef while retaining the virtues of both. SJ ordered it “fatty” and “medium fatty” and brought it back to the rented Montreal apartment to dine at home. Once again Schwartz’s meat proves that the flavor is in the fat. The Schwartz’s meat slicers, seasoned carnivore surgeons, hand carve slices that are much thicker than Katz’s pastrami so no juice and smokey flavor is lost. The Schwartz’s rye bread, however, lacks the slightly sour grandeur of traditional New York Jewish rye. Also, the texture is a tad soft. Didn’t try Schwartz’s pickles. Discerning SJ, a pickle maven, looked at the Schwartz’s product and said they looked tired. So, in terms of New York’s Jewish deli mystique, all is not lost.


Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic – The Big Exception

March 16th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

HG loathes all of the popular, incessantly advertised, heavily sugared, artificially sweetened and chemically infused carbonated beverages. Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, etc. To HG they seem to be part of a health destroying plot against the American people. Principals in the plot are the evil profiteers who stock the supermarket shelves with these nasty drinks and their collaborators, the “snack” manufacturers. (Recently they have been joined by the brewers of the “energy” drinks — a la Red Bull). HG looks with dismay as women, accompanied by children, wheel their supermarket carts laden with these vile objects. Do they hate their kids? Have they been brainwashed by television hucksters? In the interests of full disclosure and intellectual honesty, HG must admit to a twice-a-year fall from grace. That’s when HG eats a traditional overstuffed Jewish pastrami sandwich in New York (at Katz’s or Carnegie Deli). What Sauterne is to foie gras and Burgandy is to steak — that’s what Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic is to pastrami. The companion made in heaven. Of course, Cel-Ray reeks of fraud. It’s flavored with some kind of celery seed extract — not nice, fresh, healthy celery. It certainly isn’t a tonic. (Okay, okay. At some point the FDA made the manufacturers stop calling it a tonic and label it as “Soda.”) And, HG suspects Dr. Brown’s medical school credentials. Nevertheless, when eating pastrami the drink seems to be just what the doctor ordered — the pungent, almost peppery flavor is the perfect foil for the juicy fat of perfect pastrami. It is a very Jewish beverage and only found where Jews abound — New York and South Florida. You can also find it in such Los Angeles heartburn heavens as Langer’s, Canter’s and Nate and Al’s. Cel-Ray had its birth in Brooklyn in 1868 and for generations was known as “Jewish Champagne.” Pass the pickles and sour tomatoes, please.

Another Heartburn Heaven Is Gone

January 5th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Stage Delicatessen (on Seventh Avenue in New York, a few blocks south of Carnegie Hall) has closed. Farewell to another heartburn heaven. Maybe it’s time to declare the Jewish delicatessen an endangered species. For many years, the Stage slid downhill, catering to tourists and the post-theater crowd. But, in its prime (during the 60’s and 70’s) it was a splendid place, a worthy successor to the Gaiety Delicatessen, the best of all Broadway area Jewish delis. The Stage was run by Max Asnas, a guy with a heavy Yiddish accent and an irreverent wit. Broadway columnists dubbed him “the Corned Beef Confucius .” A woman complained to Max: “I don’t like the looks of this whitefish.” Replied Max: “If you want pretty, order a goldfish.” Max once served lox and bagels to a rustic from Georgia. According to Max: “The Geogee boy esks: “Which is the lox and which is the bagel?'” The Stage’s rival on Seventh Avenue, the Carnegie Delicatessen, survives. Still selling overstuffed and overpriced pastrami sandwiches to tourists. Broadway Danny Rose would not feel at home.

Goodbye Jewish Deli

December 2nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

HG’s pal, Bill Schuck, sent him a copy of The Deli Man, a clip from a longer film. Nice nostalgic stuff about Jewish delis with cameos from Larry King, Alan Dershowitz and other pastrami fanatics. Shocking fact. There were once 1,550 Jewish delis in the five boroughs of New York. There are now only 150 in all of North America; that said many staples of the Jewish Deli (pastrami, chopped liver, etc.) have become part of the mainstream eating culture of the United States. According to informed opinion, the best Jewish deli in the United States is Langer’s, located in a gritty Los Angeles neighborhood. The proprietor of Langer’s is gloomy about the future of the deli. Jewish kids prefer hamburgers. Sad. They will never know the glory of a heartburn produced by a bowl of matzo ball soup followed by an overstuffed pastrami sandwich.

Sandwich Hall of Fame

October 28th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

The Vietnamese Bahn Mi (BBQ pork, a variety of pickled and fresh vegetables, Vietnamese pate. etc. on a baguette) has become a big winner among fanciers of sandwiches and Asian food. There are are many restaurants in New York specializing in this sandwich. Causes HG to sigh. With the demise of Jewish delicatessens the Banh Mi seems slated to replace the pastrami sandwich as the New York symbolic nosh. Sad. Best sandwich ever was the pastrami, chopped liver, cole slaw, Russian dressing sandwich on seeded rye served at the demised Gitlitz Deli on Broadway and 78th. This was closely followed by the Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, rye bread — grilled to molten perfection) at Reuben’s Delicatessen (long closed) on East 58th. Runner up was the rare room temperature sliced roast beef with thinly sliced raw onion and coarse salt on rye bread liberally coated with chicken fat. HG liked this at a delicatessen on Beach 116th Street, Rockaway Park. HG also fancied the muenster cheese and lettuce sandwich on an onion roll served at long shuttered cafeterias like The Belmore and Dubrow’s. HG is not just a parochial adherent of old style Jewish sandwiches. He has always fancied Cubanos, those pork and cheese sandwiches pressed upon a hot grill served at Cuban restaurants. HG often had one (accompanied by black beans and rice) at many Washington Heights hole-in-the-wall eateries. Good stuff. Those joints also served the best steaming cups of espresso.


September 7th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

While waiting to hear President Obama’s DNC speech, HG began to think about history. HG realized that he is now old enough to have a visceral link to the Civil War. The Memorial Day (usually called “Decoration Day”) parade on the Grand Concourse in The Bronx was a dramatic and memorable occasion. HG’s famiy watched the parade from a vantage point on W. 164th Street. Marching bands. Flags. World War One Veterans. A few Spanish-American War vets. Then, a true dramatic moment, one that drew loud cheers and applause from the crowd. A convertible auto drove by slowly. In the back seat (with a nurse) were two very, very frail old men. Civil War veterans (Union army, it is presumed). They waved. Feebly. Six-year-old HG was thrilled. After the parade, HG’s family went to a favored delicatessen on Mt. Eden Avenue for pastrami sandwiches and garlicky hot dogs doused in sharp mustard. Inevitably, that food has become linked in HG’s mind to that special occasion; and it was those memories that re-surfaced during the closing night of the convention. Many hopeful (and ominous) thoughts.[/caption]

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