A baby boomer laments the loss of real eateries

We suppose there are more important things to fret about, but we’ve all lived long enough to see how radically our eating habits have changed, not always for the better. And the offerings that are out there today don’t always help. That’s what Los Angeles author and English professor Bill Cushing writes about in his Eulogy for Eateries.

Autumn is the season signifying old age and death, so it only makes sense that on Friday, September 30, 2016, I read of the impending demise of an old and much-loved friend: the Carnegie Deli in New York City.

Bill Cushing

Bill Cushing at a favorite eating place in the Glendale, CA, area — North Shore Burgers in LaCanada.

If you don’t know the Carnegie, then you should immediately book a flight to New York, hightail it to Manhattan (specifically on 7th Avenue just a few blocks south of Central Park) before the end of the year and learn what many of us since the 1930s have learned about great food, pastries, and of course Dr. John’s sodas.

My wife and I actually met in New York City, a perfect midpoint for us that offered plenty to do and provided friends each of us could stay with over that weekend of meeting after more than a year of letters and phone calls. The first thing I told her — even before “I love you” — was, “You cannot come to New York and not have a pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie.”

Mourners gather at New York's Carnegie Deli on news the place will close.

Mourners gather at New York’s Carnegie Deli on news the place will close.

In fact, I used to make a point of staying at the Gorham, one of the long-standing grand hotels — now replaced and since renamed. That way, I could stroll a few doors over for a blintz or a piece of cheesecake at three in the morning if I wished. And now my memory of such great taste and convenience is only that — a memory, for soon, the Carnegie is to be no more.

The Carnegie Deli in New York.

The Carnegie Deli in New York.

The most depressing aspect of all this is how many once great places to eat have been shutting down in recent years, and I have no idea of what, if anything, is replacing them… although I have a pretty good idea.

It started out here in Los Angeles, where I have lived for 20 years now, with Solley’s in the Van Nuys. I never saw it coming but discovered it was closing while in the area and stopping by for a slice of their scrumptious seven-layer cake.

carnegie-corn-beefLater on, Billy’s Deli in Glendale shut its doors, ironically only a few months after the passing of one of its best and most enduring waitresses. Coincidence? I think not.

Then, a few years ago, I learned that Victor Koenigs, a German restaurant in Floral Park, New York, known for its roast beef served on bread freshly baked next door, was also gone forever.

What are we being left with? Alas, burger chains or burger joints or nouveau-hip eateries that really aren’t any major improvement over other options: Applebees instead of Solleys, Chile’s over Billy’s. It is the end of the world as I’ve known it.

What can I conclude from all this? Not much, other than the thought that if we are indeed what we eat, then I must be on the way out.

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7 Comments

  1. Bill,
    Thank you for sharing and lamenting what many of us sorely miss — local eating places that are vanishing … places that have reflected the desires, ethnicity and appetites of a community.
    Reading your piece I was reminded of the first time I had an egg cream in New York. And terrific bread back in the days before all of the additives and artificial stuff were added to the baking process. Remember, for example, buns for burgers that were toasted on a grill?
    Perhaps we should start a list of good local eating places that still endure.
    David

    1. The line about grilled buns brings me back to the Scobee grill, another great NY diner that is who-knows-what now. Also reminds me when I was on my college newspaper and we rated the “best burger” in town with the qualification that it could NOT be a franchise. . .

  2. Right to the point. For many, the Carnegie became a good NYC feeding place to meet out-of-towners. I admit slipping in alone a few times for a massive sandwich. Most of my late 70s and early 80s favorites are long gone.

    1. Thanks for bring that up: I always loved the “barracks” style tables where you could enjoy the food and the company of “strangers.”

  3. If you’re in the Boston area, Bickford’s Grille (the “e” no doubt added with an air of class) in Woburn ranks as one of my favorite eating places in America. They get in fresh lobster every morning from fishermen at nearby Gloucester. The lobster omelette is amazing. Their lobster roll with homemade potato chips is the best.

  4. Bill,
    Congratulations, Bill. Loved this restaurant and so happy I got to enjoy what they had to offer before this tragic closing! I couldn’t agree with you more (we did talk about this to some degree). All the best to you and your writing career.

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