Monday, February 28, 2011

Balls, Life's Secret Scenarios #7 Fritz's Mom & Pop Open The 2nd Ave Deli—The Best NYC Deli!

“Yes, Barbara darling you can save a marriage with delicious matzoh balls. I don’t mean to say you and Fritzeleh, you’re both looking very happy, but even if the marriage is ah bissel touch and go, you know what I mean—making it work is a lot like making the matzoh balls themselves.”

(Paris Match photo,1956 issue,
food critic called The 2nd Ave Deli the best Jewish food in NYC.)
(front left: Freida, Fritz and Barbara, Harry behind counter)

Fritz’s mom, Freida, is holding forth; she, Fritz and Barbara are all seated at the front table of her newly opened 2nd Avenue Hebrew National Delicatessen and Restaurant.  It’s spring of 1956 and Harry, Fritz’s dad, is busy serving a line of customers seated at the full store-length counter, bringing them their pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, side portions of potato salad, and the inevitable Dr. Browns Celery Tonic soda. It’s early Saturday noon, before the lunch rush. The small corner store has been opened for just over one month now, and is starting to do head over heels lunch and dinner business. And, all because of Freida’s specialties — the word of mouth has gotten out about her phenomenal matzoh balls, kreplach, stuffed cabbage, chopped liver — initially just out to the immediate 2nd Avenue below 14th Street neighborhood.  But now, within the second month, on just the spreading word alone, with no ads nor articles in the papers, the 2nd Avenue Deli is on everybody’s Jewish pipeline all over the City, and in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island too!

Freida was waking up these days at 4 a.m. to go into the small backroom kitchen, in the dead of night, to begin making her stuff every day since they opened the store.  She found herself a precious helper, a Chinese man named Huey, a terrific second cook from Chinatown, who walked in and asked for a job the second day they were opened. They had put a sign out front “Kitchen Helper Needed”.  When he walked in, Harry and Freida looked him in the eye and in 2 seconds they said, “Sure Huey come in tomorrow 5 a.m.  and we’ll see how it works out?” He’s now making kreplach, real Jewish wontons, as brilliant as any shtetl cook with roots in Eastern Europe.

Frieda goes on holding forth with Fritz and Babs:
“Once the balls are floating like clouds on top of the pot and the boil is nice and slow--you cover them and fifteen minutes later you take the cover off, and lo and behold they have grown into beautifully fluffy 3” to 3.5” masterpieces. You turn off the fire, let them cool a little (a couple of minutes) then remove them to a platter for serving in your soup.  Then you can bring the stock water to a boil again and drop in some more of the walnut sized matzoh/egg mixture balls into the boiling pot for the next batch. You can keep them and reheat them for at least a few days, a week. It’s a small Jewish miracle—learning how to make them...but well worth it!”

Barbara asks Freida, “but Mom, tell me more about the mixture itself, the details?”
“I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you, don’t you worry Barbara darling”

Harry walks over ...he looks happy.

Much happier than he did six months ago when one afternoon he came over to Fritz and Bab’s University Place apartment.  Barbara was at work at T. Jones & Co. on Fifth Avenue, and Fritz was alone in the apartment, waiting for him to arrive.

That morning around 9:20 am, Fritz had gotten a very strange phone call from his mother in Brooklyn.  Very unlike her, Freida was crying, saying Harry had stormed out of the house screaming, yelling very strange things about life was no good anymore—crying bitterly.  “Fritzle, he is very forlorn.”

“Maaa, What do you mean forlorn? Do you mean depressed?”

“Please don’t yell at me Fritz…I don’t know what’s wrong with him? He needs some help, some advice; he doesn’t want to work in the fur business anymore...says he can’t breathe at the machine”

“Maybe he’s just sick of it. It’s 30 years already at that facockteh machine for him!”

“He said he was going to go and see talk to you. He needs very badly to speak to someone about all of this.  With me, he just fights and screams at me. I don’t really understand it, or him, Fritzle. Maybe you can help him? Talk with him. Please!”

When Harry arrived at the apartment, walking up the four flights of stairs to sit with Fritz—for almost the full day—they spoke to each other in a special way for the first time. Quietly. Without bravado or ego. Just quietly, Fritz tried to answer Harry’s deep questions and very tearful concerns about himself and the rest of his life. Fritz feeling, for the first time with him, like an equal, an adult friend to his father Harry. 

Harry cried to him about losing faith in his own worth.  Losing face and faith in the Furriers Union he fought so hard for; now ostracizing him as an enemy because he decided to go into business for himself and hire workers on his own. He, because of this major put down by The Union, now detested the fur business, but didn’t know what else he could do?

Fritz told him about a Doctor he knew who was helping Barbara with some of her very personal problems; “perhaps you would like to talk to him, Dad?”

“Sure why not? I have no problem with seeing a psychiatrist!”

Fritz took Harry on four once-a-week visits to this shrink on Fifth Avenue. The shrink told Fritz that his father was suffering from “Involuntary Melancholia,” that it could get worse and he recommended some mild electric shock treatments, three or four…

After two sessions, Harry snapped right back onto his aggressive productive track, regaining his mental strength, wit, and got a spurt of positive volition, perhaps an epiphany, about his life coming fully and happily back into him.

He and Fritz would go into Central Park at Fifth Avenue, right after these treatment sessions, where they sat an a bench and discussed possible future plans.
“Fritzle...I have an idea and I’m talking to your mother and she is willing to do all her magic stuff, her brilliant cooking wonders somewhere in the City, downtown, I think, on the east-side, if we can find a small storefront to open a restaurant? Maybe a Jewish deli which I could run and she could do the cooking? I think we can make a success of it! What do you think?” 

He went on:
“I’ll need to use the money I’m holding for you—from the German TV movies you made; that money you sent me from Germany to hold for you...I think it’s about seven thousand dollars…you have no problem if I could use it?”

“Sure you can, why not? I’m teaching an acting class for Lily Turner at The Gate Theatre on 2nd Avenue and East Tenth Street.  So, I will scout that neighborhood for you for a store that might be available?”

As it turned out, two Greek brothers were running a failing greasy-spoon—with a fully equipped small kitchen in the back—on the opposite corner of 10th Street and 2nd Avenue.  They were in the process of closing it down and had put a sign in the window:
“Store Available—Lease and fixtures for sale” 

After running his three hour acting class the following Saturday, Fritz went across the street to this store, walked in and made a deal with these two older Greek guys to take over the store for $3000, lock, stock and barrel.

The 2nd Ave Deli opened about three weeks later, and Momma Freida and Harry went to work!

So here’s Frieda at full bask in her culinary fame, and with a much happier husband, sitting at the front table of her successful restaurant, carrying on to her son and daughter-in-law:

“Sooo first of all Honey—you know my darling Barbara I love you so, you’re so pretty—just let me say that in the mixture for the matzoh balls, the eggs are the can’t jzalleveh with the eggs—now, there’s a great Yiddish word for you, ‘jzalleveh’—it means to stint, to be stingy with something—so my instruction to you is ‘don’t stint on the eggs’. Jzalleveh nisht mitn eiehr! Farshteystu?”

I understand mom, yes I wont stint on the eggs in my matzoh balls or with my love for Fritz in my marriage!

“That’s exactly the point Barbara darling!"

Love is also
a well made
matzoh ball


  1. Brilliant! Mordecai Richler couldn't have written better. I can smell the chicken soup.

    Naomi Beth Wakan