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The Way It Was
by Beth Berg
ARTICLE

For those of us who grew up in the 1950's, going out to a restaurant was certainly not as commonplace as it is today. In fact, there were few kosher restaurants to speak of back then. I do recall that on very special occasions like graduations and Mother's Day, we did eat out in places that are now only a fond memory- Famous on Eastern Parkway, Lou G. Siegel's in Manhattan, Crown Delicatessen on Houston Street on the Lower East Side, and, of course, the more recently departed, Ratner's on Delancey Street. For the most part, ambiance and kosher restaurants might have been the first oxymoron. The waiter would amble over to your table while giving you the once over as though to size up your tipping potential. And if you dared ask for other than the special-of-the-day, you'd get an unintelligible rattling of an undecipherable recitation accompanied by condescending long sighs. This was, after all, the era that gave birth to that tale of the waiter going from table to table asking diners - "who wanted the clean glass." I do remember a time when we took out-of-town relatives to Ratner's, which served the best fresh onion rolls. It took so long for the waiter to come back with our orders that they finished all the rolls and water on the table and could not eat anything else - meal over! My father, who was a businessman on the Lower East Side, was a great "believer" of the business lunch. He refused to brown bag it and was joined often by other businessmen. He would eat six days a week (Sunday through Friday) at a local dairy restaurant on the corner of Allen and Rivington Streets. I loved accompanying my Dad on some of these lunches. The noise was deafening with everyone talking over the din, waiters and waitresses screaming at each other and the cook screaming at them all. My favorite waitress was the one with the teased, bleached orange hair, who made that TV waitress, Vera, of “Mel's Diner  fame, look like Mother Theresa. The 1950's were the period of the rise of the neighborhood Pizza Parlors. Pizza at 25 cents or perhaps falafel at 50 cents, were "reasonable" investments in a blind date. The Chinese craze did not fully take hold until the early 1960's. On any Saturday night, at Shmulka Bernstein on Essex Street, the average wait for a table and the privilege of devouring overstuffed pastrami sandwiches and egg rolls was at least an hour or two. While you did not enjoy the wait, you knew it was the price to pay for being seen at that “hot location.  Moreover, the service by authentic, ethnic Chinese gave the place an aura of legitimacy. The restaurants of yesteryear are all gone now. They do deserve credit, however, for paving the way for a burgeoning of the most eclectic, authentic and ethnic eateries our parents and grandparents could only dream of. As Mama would always say: "eat and enjoy, Papa is paying for it."

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COMMENTS (2)
Leslie
Crown Deli
My grandfather, Chaim Holtzman was the owner of Crown Deli. Thank you for remember this Lower East Side business. My extended family, the Pilders, own the Pilder Deli in Cincinnati! Small world.
Thank you for the wonderful tribute you paid to my Father Sol Bernstein Who started Bernstein-On- Essex St, I can go on7&on. Irwin Bernstein
Bernstein-On-Essex
Thank you for the tribute you gave my father Sol Bernstein who started Bernstein-On-Essex , everything was so different 30plus years ago I can go on&on........
Sincerely Yours
Irwin Bernstein
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