Playful Nostalgia and Honed Classics, at S&P Lunch

“I’m looking for that old New York flavor that you don’t see anymore,” an nameless narrator says in a YouTube clip entitled “Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop – Open 1929 and still going strong.” In shaky footage, filmed in 1991 at the Jewish-style lunch counter close to the Flatiron Building, a few good-natured soda jerks indulge questions on their work between answering calls on a rotary telephone and shovelling ice into plastic cups, dutifully sustaining a disappearing means of life.

For authorized causes, the identify Eisenberg’s couldn’t be revived together with the area; when the place opened, in 1928, it was known as S&P Sandwich Shop.

Thirty years later, the rotary telephone wants a brand new ringer and the place is below new administration, and but: the prognosis for that previous New York taste is nice. If Eisenberg’s by no means achieved the worldwide acclaim of, say, Katz’s or the Carnegie Deli, it earned a cult following with its tuna melts and matzo-ball soup, and, extra vital, by by no means seeming to alter a smidge. When, in 2021, the constructing’s landlord sought a brand new tenant to hold the torch (the earlier one reportedly defaulted on the hire), dozens utilized. From amongst them, the best attainable victors emerged: Eric Finkelstein and Matt Ross, the sandwich consultants and playful nostalgists behind Court Street Grocers and the HiHi Room.

With their newest enterprise, Finkelstein and Ross are proving to be gifted preservationists in addition to savvy restaurateurs. For authorized causes, they needed to drop Eisenberg’s as a reputation, however historic analysis solved the issue: earlier than it was Eisenberg’s, it was briefly known as S&P Sandwich Shop, after the founders. This reinstatement is only one instance of the pair’s deft efforts to distill the store to its essence. They rehired long-term employees members, comparable to Jodi Freedman-Viera, who had labored the register for round fifteen years. They spruced up the inside, however not a lot that it doesn’t look and really feel simply because it ever did: comfy and clear but decidedly worn across the edges, the unique forty-foot counter intact and lined with vinyl swivel stools. The menu has been pared down, nevertheless it nonetheless feels encyclopedic within the custom of a short-order diner, that includes roughly three dozen sandwiches, together with hamburgers. The classics haven’t been up to date a lot as painstakingly honed. “It’s like, in your brain, when you eat something, what you want it to taste like,” Ross advised me just lately. “That’s our goal.”

Plenty of New Yorkers have by no means heard of Eisenberg’s, and but it earned one thing of a cult following with its Jewish-deli requirements, together with matzo-ball soup.

I’d like, genuinely, to eat at S&P each day. Some of my happiest moments of late have been spent marvelling at the glory of dishes I’d taken without any consideration: a ripe half cantaloupe, deseeded and full of cottage cheese, a bowl of frivolously dressed iceberg lettuce topped with a scoop of egg salad, cream cheese and chopped inexperienced olives (a surprisingly thrilling mixture) on squishy white bread. I dug into rooster liver with saltines; I sipped a cherry-lime rickey so candy that my enamel ached. I ordered my first, however definitely not my final, Dusty Miller, a remarkably unphotogenic sundae, that includes vanilla ice cream, a dollop of marshmallow fluff, chocolate syrup, and malt powder. One afternoon, I used to be moved almost to tears by the sight of a bespectacled middle-aged gentleman having fun with, solo, a towering slice of carrot cake and a cup of tea whereas crocheting.

The new proprietors have resisted the temptation to raise any of the common-or-garden choices, focussing as a substitute on honing classics to their purest essence.

Look as much as the left whereas sitting at the counter and you’ll see, the place the ceiling drops, a tiny, ancient-looking door with an indication that reads “no admittance.” I’d been to Eisenberg’s many occasions; how had I by no means observed that earlier than? The reply was that it was solely just lately put in, a cheeky design flourish, to cowl an air-conditioning hatch. “A number of people have said, ‘I’m so glad you guys left that door there,’ ” Finkelstein advised me, laughing. “On Instagram, people have posted things like, ‘So glad they kept the cottage fries,’ or ‘The pastrami is exactly how I remember it.’ ” The cottage fries are new to the menu; the pastrami is sourced from a special producer. “It’s really interesting talking to people who have spent a lot of time in that space, much more than we ever did, and how much information is just completely misremembered,” Ross stated. “Everyone has this memory, and we’re fulfilling that memory in a weird sort of way.” (Sandwiches $6-$19.) ♦


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