(New York Jewish Week) — It’s just after 1 p.m. on an unseasonably warm autumn day, and the line at the recently opened Flatiron restaurant S&P, which describes itself as “a new place for a very old lunch counter,” is out the door.
Fortunately for my rumbling stomach, the crowd is mostly due to the tight quarters within: Many customers are simply waiting for takeout orders of pastrami sandwiches and matzah ball soup. The barstool seating at the vintage marble counter means space near the entrance is at a premium, and my dining companion (none other than Shannon Sarna, the editor of The Nosher) and I are quickly seated at a two-top in the cramped yet convivial rear, which is dominated by a long green banquette.
S&P officially opened Sept. 28, the latest venture from Eric Finkelstein and Matt Ross, the founders of hip local sandwich mini-chain Court Street Grocers. It’s the newest iteration of an old-school luncheonette at 174 Fifth Ave., which first opened in 1928 and had been known for decades as Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop.
I myself had once been a regular Eisenberg’s customer: At the tail-end of the ’90s, my first “real” job in New York was at the Flatiron Building across the street. To me — and, clearly, to many other New Yorkers — Eisenberg’s was the kind of place that seemed to be entwined with the very fabric of the city, like pigeons, hot dog carts and subway cars. I can’t say the food was particularly good at Eisenberg’s, but washing down a tuna melt with an egg cream in the vintage environs always felt special.
After a series of owners, Eisenberg’s shuttered for good during the pandemic in March 2021. Finkelstein and Ross — who first met as undergraduates at the Rhode Island School of Design, where they graduated in 2003 — were tapped to take over the space this spring, as the building’s landlord was committed to having a tenant who would preserve the vibe (if not the name, due to legal reasons) of Eisenberg’s.
The partners have spiffed up the interior and the menu a tad — but not enough so that the eatery feels unrecognizable. In fact S&P very much feels the same as Eisenberg’s always has, even if the floor is new and dishes such as bananas and sour cream are recent additions. As Finkelstein, 40, who grew up in a Jewish family in Hollis Hills, Queens, told me in a phone interview: “This is the kind of food I grew up around and with.”
In an effort to preserve the space’s long history, the new owners settled on a name that honors the restaurant’s original owners, Charles Schwadron and Rubin Pulver. “You can see that these two guys, Schwadron and Pulver, had built this place out right when the building was erected, and they were going to run a restaurant together,” Finkelstein said, explaining research that included scouring old lawsuits and tax documents. “In a 1940 tax photo, which is how we found out it had been called S&P, you can see five other sandwich shops on the same block.”
Following a hectic weekday lunch rush, I spoke with Finkelstein about the luncheonette’s legacy, its Jewish influences and how to make a perfect egg cream.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
New York Jewish Week: Eisenberg’s felt like the kind of place that’s been around forever — and the new S&P still does. The nostalgia is there, but at the same time, the restaurant really feels like a living, breathing part of the city. Is that what you were aiming for?
Eric Finkelstein: This kind of place has always been really important to my business partner, Matt [Ross], and I — and to, obviously, a lot of people in New York. It’s the kind of place that people associate with New York. When you think about the city, you assume that these places are everywhere — and they should be. There are a number of reasons why they aren’t; some of them are organic, and some of them aren’t.
We found ourselves with an opportunity to help the city retain this one. And I think, fundamentally, what we really wanted to do was just make sure that if we were going to do this, that we did it in a way that was honest — where we tried to make the best food that we can, and try to provide the most appropriate level of service that we can, and that it’s not, to use a phrase Matt uses, a “theme-park version.” Because we definitely feel that this kind of thing is timeless, and it’s not, you know, it’s not an exercise in nostalgia to try to keep this place open.
Were you familiar with Eisenberg’s before you opened S&P?
I wasn’t aware of Eisenberg’s as a kid. My father definitely knew of it; my great-grandparents worked in the neighborhood, where there were a ton of places like Eisenberg’s. When we opened Court Street Grocers [in 2010], Matt and I used a number of things as a model for what we wanted to do [and this was one of them]. Like everybody else, I was kind of bummed to see the place had declined so precipitously in those last couple of years, then even more devastated to see it close.
I should say, obviously, that we are not Eisenberg’s. We don’t have the right to use that name. S&P is a different business. But one of the things that I loved so much about Eisenberg’s is that it was a lunch counter, that, you know, there were hundreds, or maybe thousands of lunch counters exactly like it in New York, with the same exact specs for the marble countertop and the mirrored back bar.
There are a lot of traditional Jewish foods on the menu, like latkes and matzah brei, but you also have things like cheeseburgers and bacon. Would you consider S&P a Jewish deli, or do you see it as Jewish in any way?
I would consider it a Jewish luncheonette. I think a deli has counter service, like a deli counter. Maybe a deli food case, and you could order food to go, or you could sit down at a table and maybe get a table service. But I think the lunch counter aspect of it makes it not a deli but a luncheonette.
It’s obviously not kosher. But, you know, I think there’s a tradition of this kind of lunch counter in New York that was Jewish inflected. And even a lot of diners have a lot of traditional Jewish food on their menus, for whatever reason, just because it’s New York.
I read that S&P’s desserts are made by your relatives. I love how this is a family business — a lot of the classic Jewish restaurants in the city, like Katz’s Delicatessen and Russ & Daughters, are generations-old family businesses. Do you feel like you’re recreating some of that, with something new?
My father makes the rugelach and both of Matt’s parents make the carrot cake.
The Court Street Grocers business, we’ve always thought of it as a kind of mom-and-pop-style operation. Decisions are made based on what’s actually happening with interactions between the customers and the staff, versus just kind of coming up with what people call “a concept” and executing it. These places should be living and breathing things that change.
Bonus question: I ordered a tuna melt and an egg cream at S&P, just like I used to at Eisenberg’s. I like egg creams OK but I don’t generally love them. But the one I had at S&P was by far the best egg cream I’ve ever had. What’s your secret?
First of all, we have good seltzer — we made sure that we had a good seltzer system put in, with the right amount of carbon dioxide, pressure, and a way that we can get it cold enough, which is a big deal. We’re using good milk, and we’re using Fox’s U-Bet [chocolate] syrup. So it’s sort of the same ingredients that everybody uses. I don’t know if ours is better, but the order of operations is really important. Before we opened we tried, over and over again, different ways of making it, like you put the chocolate syrup and then the milk. [Or] you put the milk and seltzer and then syrup. We’ve gotten to a place where we’re really satisfied. The amount of syrup is really important — I think it’s just proportions and order of operations, and then doing your best to try to not beat out all the carbonation.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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