Tags: food


Memories of a Street Vendor

Perhaps you've seen him. I had no idea that Joe Ades was so well known. I told my friend, Max Schmid at WBAI, that I'd bought a vegetable peeler from this interesting fellow on the street and he knew exactly who I was talking about. Then yesterday I noticed in passing that there was a story about him in the NY Times. It was on second examination a little later that it was an obituary. Learning that his name was Joe Ades, I Googled him up to find any number of references to him and a popular YouTube video.

Last spring I was serving jury duty in Brooklyn.  During the lunch break I saw this guy across the street from the courthouse.  Normally I turn a deaf eye and ear to street hawkers, but i had some time to kill and he was demonstarting a kitchen gadget.  I love gadgets, and if they're kitcheny so much the better.  Besides, this fellow had an unusual approach.  Whether he had an audience or not, he did his schtick in a brisk, yet unhurried, tone; all the time whittling away skillfully at carrots and potatoes iwhile squatting over plastic bins to catch the peelings.  He never broke stride with his spiel, using a low-key London (maybe East End) accent, even when asking a question.

After observing for 10 minutes I *had* to buy a peeler from him.  I might've bought two, but he was only offering a discount on four.  I figured I'd take it home, try it out, and buy another the next day if I liked it.

He wasn't there the next day -- maybe there were better pickings at a Greenmarket somewhere.  Just last week, mid-potato peel, I was thinking that I'd love to run into him again; especially with Barbara, so that she could enjoy his act.  Then I saw that obit last night.

Joe Ades hearkened from another time and place, and brought it into 21st Century Brooklyn and other parts of New York City. I've thought of him frequently while fixing dinner, and will continue to do so.  Apparently he touched a great many people as well.  Enjoy the video below -- he might reach you too.

[ If for some reason the video doesn't embed properly, try http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCUct4NlxE0 ]

RIP Joe, and thanks!


A Dearth of Delis

I was walking along Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge to our house when a couple of women, obviously no strangers to Brooklyn judging by their accents, asked if I knew where John's Deli was.  It took me a moment.

"Oh, you mean that new place on Third?"

The passenger-side woman screwed her face.  "It's supposed to be famous."

*ding*  "Yeah, that's the place.  Apparently they were a big deal in Bensonhurst and eventually moved over here with a lot of hype.  We went there the week they opened and went inside to look at their menu.  I can't tell you how it is, because there was nothing interesting enough for us to try.  We wanted the kind of deli that's got chopped livers, pastrami, or specials."  (Those are Knackwurst for y'all;)

"That's what we're looking for -- Jew food.  This is supposed to be Brooklyn, right?"  They were crestfallen.  John's has Pastrami heros as a weekly special, but they're better known for dishes like fried ravioli and Italian sandwiches.  Not my idea of a deli.  No pickle barrel; even behind the counter.  Forget derma.

I have been railing about the lack of proper delis for awhile, and they seem to be getting scarcer.  When I moved to Brooklyn in the mid-90s (I spent my first 40 years in Queens) there was a really decent place called the Paramount Deli that had the kind of hot dogs that would squirt a bit of juice when you broke the skin.  It was a long walk, but worth it for the specials and knishes.  Sadly, they closed after I'd been in the neighborhood a couple of years. 

Now I live much closer to the Verrazano bridge, and still nothing.  At least there was a place called the Empress Diner in Bensonhurst which would deliver here, but their food was expensive.  No question about its being the real thing, though -- triple-layer sandwiches on your choice of rye with combination of chopped liver, corned beef, pastrami, tongue, melted swiss cheese, dark mustard, etc.  We'd team up with a couple of neighbors and feast out on the shared sidewalk of the cul-de-sac in which we live.  (There are about 5 of these wonderful little hideaways in Bay Ridge.  There are houses available for sale or rent, if you know anyone looking.)  Then the Empress' phone number stopped answering.

I've asked a couple of folk for recommendations, shy of going to Manhattan.  Moshe Feder gave me a few Kosher recommendations:

"First, is the Mill Basic Deli, particularly noted for its chopped liver, but fully equipped with all the traditional favorites.Of course, it's way the other side of Brooklyn, but here's their website:  http://www.mssk6.bizland.com/

Next, there's Adelman's at 1906 Kings Hwy, Brooklyn, NY 11229-1314  Phone: (718) 336-4915

Next time you're in Queens, try Ben's Best at 96-40 Queens Blvd. in Rego Park. There's an exit from the 63rd Dr./Rego Park IND station just feet away. They've been in business (first in the Bronx, then here) for over 60 years, and may well be the best surviving classic Deli in Queens. See also: http://www.bensbestkosherdeli.com/"

Another place he dug up in his research was Essex on Coney, which Barbara and I had traveled to.  Ehh.  Despite being Glatt Kosher, their menu featured more pseudo-Chinese food than Deli, and the food just wasn't that great.  I actually had to ask them to include mustard.

Moshe also guided me to a blog that listed more places in Cleveland than New York.  And that's representative of the state of things today.  Delis -- real delis -- have become a place for nostalgia rather than common cuisine. 

Obviously there are a few places left, but they're few and far between.  These two ex-pat ladies who I met today are trying to recapture a certain taste and atmosphere (albeit a thick one) that is rapidly disappearing.  And that these are gone from most nabes in Brooklyn and Queens is sad.

At least we still got real bagels...
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