It bothers me that the word delicatessen has been nearly forgotten. After all, its a lovely German word--which when loosely translated means; a place to eat delicacies.
Where have these eateries gone?
"Mom and Pop" delicatessens have vanished from our culture partly because of the end of ethnic neighborhoods, soaring costs and enormous carpetbagging, corporate franchises. What's left is a "deli." These days, a deli is synonymous with convenience stores or sandwich shops. It's not only an abbreviated name but the quality it provides has been watered-down with general goods...while customer service suffers due to an indifferent, minimum wage earning staff.
In my upbringing most delicatessens were kosher or kosher-style. But, I also loved to get a ham and cheese with potato salad at Karl's German Delicatessen on the "L" (Avenue L in Canarsie) . Additionally, I was introduced (late in life, I was seventeen) to my favorite, Genoa Salami at a salumeria (sala-maria), a pork store/butcher shop that many people referrred to as, an Italian Delicatessen.
However, this week's rantings are reserved for the THE KOSHER-STYLE DELICATESSEN. These delicatessens were sit-down restaurants/caterers. The front counter (cash register area) were"decorated" with stringed frankfurters hanging on the back wall. Also, for the walk-up trade and impulse buyers, there was cold drinks and a grill with franks and knishes (a novice could get away with pronouncing it kin-NISH...but to be more ethnically correct, try: k'nish).
Delicatessens had tables and chairs scattered about with a kitchen out back. The attentive waiters always seemed to be hyper, old bald men with sweaty foreheads named Yussel, Murray or Bela the Fella, (forgive me, these references are mid-70's and earlier recollections...plus, these "old" men were probably in their 40's).
While waiting to be served, one could feast on the complimentary sour pickle bucket. I liked to slather the spicy brown mustard on my two favorites, a hot corned beef on rye with sauerkraut inside or an extra lean pastrami (on rye). I would wash it and a knish down with a bottle of Dr. Brown's CEL-RAY soda, (Cel-Ray...is a celery flavored soda and nobody except me, likes it).
My mother used to get a whole dinner and one of her favorite entrees was Romanian steak. I tried it once and liked it. Down through the years because true delicatessens are nearly extinct, I have forgotten about it...until recently at my friend Carmen's house, I tried her skirt steak.
Carmen soaks her skirt steak over night in a marinade called "Mojo." Mojo is a Goya product found in most supermarkets, in the Spanish food aisle. Mojo is used to enhance chicken, pork and beef. It comes in a yellow labeled, 24-ounce bottle.
Mojo's flavorful ingredients include, bitter orange, lemon, garlic and onion. The only other additive Carmen uses is, Goya's all-purpose seasoning called, adobo.
I called my mother and told her how good skirt steak was and she said, "Dummy, skirt steak IS Romanian steak! You've always loved it."
Thanks for your support mom.
Nevertheless, I bragged and continue to brag about Carmen's skirt steak. I tell everyone that it's great barbecued, broiled or fried in a pan...I've had it each way.
At my casino job, I mentioned my love of skirt steak to one of my roulette players and she wanted the recipe. My supervisor overheard and I promised him the recipe too. Well that's where the odyssey begins. I asked my wife and she was vague. So, I E-Mailed both the chef AND her husband Jerry. Jerry robustly told me that he would get her right on it...but it never happened.
A week passed and the player came back into the casino. She was disappointed that I hadn't sent out the recipe. I told her that I didn't forget. I compared the formula to the recipe for Coca-Cola. When she scoffed I said, "It's a closely guarded secret with possible military significance. If my friend told me, she'd have to kill me."
This woman doubted my sincerity. So I tried (unsuccessfully) to make a connection with the secretive nature of the skirt steak and the egg salad recipe from 1966's Woody Allen movie, "WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY?"
|WOODY ALLEN RE-EDITED AND SWITCHED THE DIALOG FROM A LEGITIMATE (1964) JAPANESE SPY MOVIE. THE RESULT WAS A HILARIOUS CHASE FOR AN EGG SALAD RECIPE.|
Well I finally cornered the chef and Carmen said, "It's no recipe...just cover the meat over night in mojo and sprinkle some adobo on it."
Last week, I took my mother out for lunch and we went to the world famous, (infamous) Arch Diner, (bordering Canarsie and East Flatbush). I saw Romanian steak on the menu. My mom said it was good there. I found out the hard way, it wasn't. In retrospect, I should have drove six neighborhoods farther away to last delicatessen standing because the Arch didn't use enough mojo and adobo...if they used any at all!