Sunday, January 18, 2009

Still here

Man, it's been a long time since I updated this blog. Sorry about that. It's been a pretty difficult couple months for me personally.

I've received a couple comments from readers I thought I'd share:

Rick Festa writes: "I am Leo Martin's grandson and my memories of Dubrow's are so vivid...The stuffed roasted chicken really stands out in my mind, and have never found a stuffing like that since. I spent many hours there with my Grandfather as a young boy, and i can still remember that special smell of the place. I still remember the faces of the cooks and the cashiers and that cool change returner attached to the side of the register..."

Deborah Berman writes to ask about the recipe for "the most memorable bran muffins in the world." As always, I do not have any recipes - I wish I did! So far I haven't found anyone else who does, either.

Dan Russell writes to ask about a Dubrow's in Bensonhurst and another "famous one on 86th street" - I am not sure both of these he is recalling are Dubrow's, but the latter is probably the one on Eastern Parkway. Anyone remember a Dubrow's in Bensonhurst?

Finally, I also found an excerpt in The World on a Plate by Joel Denker about Dubrow's:

"Cafes also became center of Jewish cooking and companionship. The Garden cafeteria, next door to the Jewish Forward, was a gathering place for reporters, actors, intellectuals, and ethnics who worked in the neighborhood. Like an eastern Europe cafe, it buzzed with conversation and animated debate. Places like the Garden encouraged a breed of ethnic socializers that Isaac Singer, who was one of them, dubbed cafeterianiks.

The Garden, which opened in 1931, was organized like a cafeteria. Customers decided on their order, and the counterman punched the appropriate code on their ticket. There were the classic dairy choices - blintzes, varnishkes, soups. The display case revealed a tantalizing plates of smoked whitefish, herring and apple and other salads, cheese, and coffee cakes. Many diners were content with a piece of cake and tea or a bowl of chopped vegetables and fruit mixed with sour cream.

As the Lower East Side rag trade withered away, Jewish cafeterias and luncheonettes sprang up in the midtown Garment Center. Dubrow's, one of the most famous cafeterias, served up pirogen, gefilte fish, and roast chicken to cutters, jobbers, and pressmen. Irving Moskowitz, a Dubrow's Cafeteria customer for over thirty years, remembered it as a warm gathering place: 'It was more than just a place to eat. It was a meeting place. A place. You didn't get to know them [other customers]. But they were people, and you sort of knew them
.'"

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

To clear up the confusion about Famous Cafeteria and Dubrow's.I believe Dan Russell is referring to Famous Cafeteria which was on 86th Street in Bensonhurst, near 18th Avenue (under the elevated train, the street in Saturday Night Fever). It was a large Dubrow's-style cafeteria.
On Eastern Parkway, diagonally across from Dubrow's was the Famous Restaurant, I think it was a dairy restaurant.
Marcia

Winslow said...

I have some memories of the old NYC cafeterias that I would like to share. I have enjoyed visiting your blog several times in recent years.
I wonder if you know about the magic connection to Dubrow's on Seventh Ave.? Starting in the early '70s, as I entered college (at Rutgers, in NJ), I became quite serious about learning and performing card magic. The No. 1 store, then, was a place called Tannen's, which was located on the 17th floor of a building in Times Square - since replaced by the now-defunct Virgin Megastore. Magicians from all over the city and the rest of the world would gather at Tannen's every Sat. afternoon and then, when it closed around 3pm, they'd wander down Broadway to an old-style cafeteria called The Governor, at 39th St. and B'way.
The magicians were free to hang out there, in the rear area, till closing time, around 7pm, as I recall. We'd share tricks, schmooze, perform, and eat cheesecake and other delicacies. Like Dubrow's, this cafeteria used the punch-card system; you'd pull a ticket from a machine at the entrance, the men behind the counters would punch it, and you'd be charged accordingly as you left, by a woman cashier who sat in what I remember as a sort of cage. (This same system still exists at Katz's Deli, on Houston St. on Lower East Side.) I was on a college student budget, then, so couldn't indulge so much, but I do remember the food being quite good and pretty much a bargain.
I remember some regulars hanging out there, up front, including a man who had a numerical tatoo, supplied free of charge in a WW2 Nazi concentration camp, on his forearm. This was an astonishing sight for me and one I will never forget.
In the late 1970s, I believe, The Governor closed; it is now a Duane-Reade chain drugstore. (Ugh.) When it closed, the Sat. PM magic conclave had to move, and its first stop, as I recall, was Dubrow's, only a block or two away. This place was much more crowded and busy than its predecessor - perhaps because it was one of the last cafeterias left in the city, perhaps because its food was better, I don't know. I was drifting away from magic at this point and as a result did not pay as much attention as I might have.
Eventually, Dubrow's either closed or asked the magicians to leave and they found yet another cafeteria, on Park Ave. So. at 28th St. The name of that place escapes me - oh, old age! - but I remember it as a hangout for cab drivers. And sure enough, Martin Scorcese filmed a scene or two there for his famous movie, Taxi Driver.
Soon enough, this place, too, shut down, and the magicians - who, by the way, have been gathering like this since the 1950s, at least - moved to a Japanese noodle place on Madison Ave. and 47th St. Upstairs, there, was a mah-jong parlor, complete with nice felt-covered tables, which were perfect for working with playing cards. Later, the group moved to a deli on Madison at 36th and last I know, the group had split into two - one meets in the basement of a joint called Maui Taco, on 5th Ave. one block south of the Empire State Bldg. and another at a pizza place on 35th or 36th between 5th and 6th Aves. Why the split, I don't know.
And that is my small brush with Dubrow's, which I will always remember as a bustling, noisy, popular place and, for this (mainly) Jersey boy, a real taste of NYC as it once was.

Anonymous said...

The Famous Cafeteria was located on 86th St. between 21st Ave. and Bay Parkway. I visited it in the 40's with my family,and I remember eating some very tasty meals there in the 50's and 60's as prices rose from about 60 cents to nearly a dollar for a meal consisting of 3 vegetables and a choice of a variety of breads (and butter). For about 25 cents extra, a vegetable roast with mushroom sauce could take the place of a vegetable.

I had forgotten about the Famous Dairy Restaurant on Eastern Parkway, but dim memories are being stirred. There was also a Famous Dairy Restaurant on 13th Ave near 47th St. or so - I don't know whether it appeared after the one on Eastern Avenue, but it was there in the 1950's, 1960's and later.

joel krane said...

My sister in law found a photo,circa 1950, that I thought was taken at the Famous Restaurant on Eastern Parkway. I found this blog and discovered that I was mistaken. My grandparents lived at 1004 Eastern Parkway. Dubrows on Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue was a regular stop. My memory of the Famous restaurant is a little more vague. Somehow I remember climbing over mounds of dirt on Eastern Parkway to get over to what would be the north and east side of Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue. The restaurant was on the first floor. For some reason the outside reminded me of a Paris cafe. I'm not sure this was a dream or what the significance of the mounds of dirt are.
My grandfather had a clothing store on Allen Steeet on the lower east side. I remember the Garden cafeteria, (it reminded me of Dubrows).