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Thursday, May 5, 2005

Oh, how I miss the No. 2 on rye

(What Manhattan deli served up a corned beef and tongue sandwich called "Tongue's for the Memory"? The Carnegie Deli.)

When my brother and sister and I were growing up in Down Neck Newark, our mother always had some sort of job going outside the house. We needed the bucks, and she'd wait tables and do secretarial work to make ends meet.

One of the places she worked, for many years, was a delicatessen uptown called Hobby's, where Sam the owner ground out one gigantic, New York-style deli sandwich after another. Mom would put on her uniform and head out around 10 in the morning. She'd walk up to the corner and hop on the number 1 or number 34 Public Service bus, which she would take one stop past the city's main intersection, Broad and Market. Then she'd walk a short block over to Branford Place, and Sam's palace of cured meat, to serve lunch to lots of local celebrities. These included most of the high-powered lawyers and judges who worked at the nearby courthouse, and the reporters who covered them. Mom wouldn't get out of there until around 2:30, and get home just before my brother and I returned from school.

Once in a while we would go to Hobby's with someone to pick Mom up. And it was on those trips that we kids learned about the wonders of cole slaw and Russian dressing slathered right on a huge sandwich of corned beef, pastrami, and tongue -- tongue! -- on some serious Jewish rye bread. Or chopped chicken liver sandwiches -- oh, man. These things were so huge, it was a challenge to get your mouth around them. You'd need a Dr. Brown's cream soda to wash it down. The grown-ups even drank Cel-Ray, the good doctor's celery soda, but as I recall that was a little too daring for us wee ones.

It was a thriving restaurant, but as anyone who's worked in such a place knows, it was tough work for everyone involved. I remember in particular the meat slicing machine, which Sam worked so skillfully. One false move with that thing, and you were heading out to the hospital with the tip of your finger in a napkin, with ice packed around it (which I think actually happened one day). Sam's mother-in-law played the role of the cashier, which we were led to understand was standard operating procedure in Jewish delis. It's funny, because when I first moved to Portland and was working in the Pioneer Courthouse, there was a similar outfit right across the street, called Dave's -- "Jewish soul food," my boss called its fare -- and sure enough, there was the mother-in-law behind the register as you paid your bill and picked up your tray.

Dave's is worthy of another post all its own, but what got me thinking about Hobby's this morning is this story. Like my mom, Sam is now retired. But his sons still run the deli, and they're sending free salami over to the soldiers in Iraq. I'm sure it will taste great to the fighters in the desert, but if they start to think about those monster sandwiches that you can get at Hobby's, they, like me, are going to be homesick.

Comments (7)

What part of Newark is "Down Neck?" My Grandmother was born in Newark in 1902 - she was 2nd generation German, lived first in a "cold-water flat" and then moved into a nicer place - but then her father died when she was nine. She had to go to work at age 14.

Anyway, she always said the neighborhood she had grown up in had turned into a fearsome Black ghetto. She had one brother who still lived in Newark in 1967, when apparently he was mugged on his front porch. He hi-tailed it out to Asbury Park to finish his life at the race track.

She always claimed that there was an old Italian section of the northern part of Newark that remained as it had been - Peter Rodino, the Congressman from the area was from there - he was also a relative of my Grandmother's brother-in-law.

"Down Neck" is on the east side -- also known as the Ironbound section. There was a pretty strong German presence there. Indeed, there was even a Berlin Street there until WWI, when it was conveniently renamed Rome Street.

The Italian enclave she referred to was probably the north ward, where a vigilante guy named Tony Imperiale gained fame keeping the you-know-who down. That was Peter Rodino country. Also brought the world Frankie Valli and Connie Francis. Check out the Old Newark site -- you'll get lots of details.

"Dave's" and its followers migrated to the store across from the courthouse from the restaurant's previous location, on the corner of 5th and Yamhill Streets. "Dave" (who if I remember was actually Abe Saltman) bought the business in the early 1970s, which had been called "Danny's" and run in the ground floor of the Goodnaugh Building since the late 1950s. Both as Dave's and as Danny's it featured some of the best pastrami and corned beef in town -- not, maybe, a fiercely-fought competition, but nevertheless the closest thing in town to a New York deli.

Isaac, we must remember Dave's in a full post of its own. It was quite a place.

Oh, maaan. I've been craving a good corned beef/russian dressing/cole slaw/chopped liver (yes, put it all together, please) sandwich since I moved here. Got spoiled by the likes of the Second Avenue deli in NYC; nothing out this way comes even close...

Years ago, I worked in a big law firm in Newark. If you remained working at your desk (and billing the time, of course) during lunch, the firm would pay for your custom-ordered lunch made by Hobby's and delivered to your office. Pretty good incentive, that. And, it worked out well for the firm, because one hour's billable time was a helluva lot more than even Hobby's most expensive sandwich.

Dave's got booted out of its Yamhill spot by urban renewal (Pioneer Place), and got moved to the Justice Center. The wrong context --it didn't feel at all the same-- it didn't last there.

By the way...went to Portland Bagels TODAY over lunch to get a salt bagel --they were one of the last to make 'em-- and the door was locked, and a sign said they were done. I joined a small group standing there stunned...

We give tax breaks to "historic" homes...how about historic businesses? Jazz de Opus. Dave's. The Hobbit (now a Walgreen's...)

Not all progress is progress.

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