Oh, how I miss the No. 2 on rye
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.