Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Appetizing

Last week I posted about Ess-A-Bagel's old sign, on which the words "Appetizing Cheeses" was printed, and about how their new sign unfortunately omits these words. I read the words together, as a single phrase, to mean "Our delicious cheeses will stimulate and appeal to your appetite."



But a few readers schooled me. "Appetizing" is a noun in this context, they said, and does not modify "cheeses."

After visiting East Side Bagel & Appetizing, Henry wrote, "'appetizing' is often a noun that means anything you get at a bagel store," and directed us to Wikipedia's entry on "Appetizing Store," the "store that sells the foods one eats with bagels."



On the Lower East Side, such a well-loved store is Russ & Daughters.

Marjorie told us that "appetizing is a vintage noun meaning 'stuff one eats with bagels,'" and she pointed us to Russ & Daughters' online definition: What Is Appetizing?



R&D writes, "Appetizing also originated from Jewish dietary laws, which dictate that meat and dairy products cannot be eaten or sold together. As a result, two different types of stores sprang up in order to cater to the Jewish population. Stores selling cured and pickled meats became known as delicatessens, while shops that sold fish and dairy products became appetizing stores."

"In New York City, until the 1960’s, there were appetizing stores in every borough and in almost every neighborhood. On the Lower East Side alone there were, at one point, thirty appetizing shops."



A New York Times Q&A speculates that this use of "appetizing" is indigenous to New York City and the "term does not appear to exist outside New York."

Jill of Blah Blog Blah recalled growing up "in a much more Jewish New York where appetizing delis were a dime a dozen... Every Sunday my grandfather went to the appetizing store to get bagels and smoked fish after his haircut and then taunt me with the eyeball from the fish."


New York Magazine, 1968

Milton Glaser (designer of the I Heart NY logo) wrote a fantastic guide to The Appetizing Store for New York Magazine in 1968, in which he writes, "Perhaps the most dramatic feature of any appetizing store counter is the stack or stacks of shimmering golden-skinned whitefish."

Here are Glaser's Top 7 from the time:



Remarkably, four of the seven still exist. Haber is gone. So is Zuckerman's. On his food blog, Peter Cherches recalls buying his lox at M. Schacht on 2nd Ave near 6th, but that's gone too. Murray's still exists, but they sell meat, so it may not qualify as a true appetizing store. As for Zabar's and Greengrass...

Alan Levitz, of Banner Smoked Fish in Coney Island, told Jewish Woman Magazine, "Appetizing stores are a dying breed. They've been replaced by bagel stores. Of course, bagel stores sell appetizing—along with salads and meats. Smoked fish is only a piece of their business... Barney Greengrass is a restaurant, and Zabar's is really a gourmet supermarket."


photo of Schacht: Weissworks' flickr

All of this is to say that, used as a noun in this particular way, in this old New York Jewish way, the word "Appetizing" has almost vanished completely from its native city. Ess-A-Bagel's removal of the word from their signage is only the latest erasure.

Its demise follows the vanishing of appetizing shops and the people who went there for their lox, kippers, and kapchunkas, people like Jill's grandfather, a whole generation of New Yorkers who are disappearing and taking their vintage words with them.



As all good things banished from gleaming Manhattan, "appetizing" has migrated to Brooklyn and Queens, where it manages to hang on, surviving at the margins in less-traveled, uncelebrated pockets of the outer city. Fork in the Road says Borough Park is the place to go.

Where else can "appetizing" be found?

23 comments:

PatMinNYC said...

Mouthwatering history lesson on the meanings of the word but now I find myself jonesing for a real hand rolled bagel with lox & cream cheese ;-)

John M said...

Great post.

Old words and phrases are dying all the time, I think of one or two every week that people never say anymore.

On TCM's show with former child stars, Jane Withers said, 'heavens to Betsy', I think it was. My gf, who's been in the US for 15 years, was delighted because she had never heard it before.

In 15 years in NYC! A minor casualty, but there are so many....

Grand St. said...

Love the Glaser list. I can recall standing in Joe Haber's with my dad or mom. I remember it as more spacious than R&D and that I obsessed on the large container of Swedish fish near the register. It was only when Haber's closed that my folks started patronizing it's neighbor, Russ.

...and the sign change at Ess is a blow, but a glancing one. A bigger loss was the disappearance of the older counterman who used to pepper his exchanges with phrases like: "You wanna add a little tomato to kill the taste?" (I think he meant it.)

Donna Muller said...

What a fabulously quirky thing to have unearthed!

Barbara Hanson said...

John M., The first thing that came to my mind was "Kiss my ass in Macy's window!" Haven't heard that in years.

rolf said...

Very good work! I find it fascinating.

I for one would like to know more about the Yiddish implementation of the German word "Delicatessen". I presume it to be from the German Delicat (delicacy) Essen (food; eating) but am unsure of its meaning in an intermediary, earlier American sense.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post! A midwestern friend of mine asked me years ago what the definition of the word "delicatessen" was, and I couldn't answer. It's just one of those words that's always been in my life. Promptly sent him this. I'll be looking out for "Appetizing" signage from now on, as it will probably mean a very well established (and delicious) bagel store lies inside. Thank you!

Kurt said...

I had no idea -- excellent.

I like the photo with the portrait of the trio of women. I wonder if they were Russ' daughters, counter help, or both?

I've seen portraits of managers at chain "food stores," but they just add to the feeling that all the humans in the joint are interchangeable units.

Chuck Walker said...

That is so very interesting. How did I not know that? I always thought the use of the word "appetizing" was some kind of throwback marketing "trigger" word. Thanks for yet another tidbit to share with my groups.

Anonymous said...

You've done it again. Fascinating.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i thought it was pretty cool, too. thanks to all the commenters who "schooled" me in the true meaning of Appetizing.

Anonymous said...

when it comes to appetizing, nothing beats Max's in Woodmere.

Peter said...

Terrific post, once again. I always learn something from your site, even way out here in the Rockies.

Jill said...

Thank you for doing this! I'm still out of my mind that so many people don't know what appetizing stores are, something I've always taken for granted, like delis or candy stores.

I recently found out that my son doesn't know what a candy store is (but he does know what appetizing is!) He thinks a candy store is the same as a deli. Oy my heart aches at the thought. Soon there will be people who don't know what a bodega is.

I was actually going to spend some time researching appetizing after your first post got me all hot and bothered, but then I got sidetracked by sturgeon, an interesting fish that I need to eat and learn more about. My initial emotional reaction is that sturgeon is for fancy people and whitefish for regular people. I will find out if that's true. It was a whitefish eyeball that my grandfather loved to tease me with, right before he cut off the head with a great flourish.

Jeremiah Moss said...

"urge for sturgeon"! thank you, Jill, for the links and the story about your grandfather. love it.

chris flash said...

I'm in the middle of an interesting auto-biography in which the author says his uncle was Barney Greengrass, the deli king, who, the author says, was mafia-connected.

The author is porn star Ron Jeremy!!

Jeremiah Moss said...

if it's true, that's a crazy, fantastic family connection.

EV Oldtimer said...

Great post on "appy" shops. I used to go to Schact's for fresh roast turkey: they had a couple every day. East Village Meats (Baczynsky's, 2nd between 9 and St Marks) has them now, but they're not as good.

Regular butcher shops in the E.V. often used to cook rotisserie chickens for take-home all day long: there was one on 1st Avenue where some trendoid restaurant is now. If you timed it right and got there just as the cooking spin cycle was finishing, you got the most delicious hot chicken imaginable. With dripping, too, if you asked.

Cliff said...

Being a North Carolina boy, I found this to be very educational !

cat said...

Hi Jeremiah, this was so interesting... how the original post led to discovery of definition of what "appetizing" means in this context! I was just at Grand Central and downstairs there's a food court store that has a sign: "Mendy's Appetizing." (There might be another word in there but I didn't write it down.) And it's pretty new!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Cat--maybe "appetizing" will have a comeback!

(as long as they don't make "artisanal appetizing" and stick it in a boutique on Extra Place.)

bbb said...

I don't know Jeremiah.
The concern you site in your post is actually the reality that is an appetizing store. (they are boutiques and they are artisanal). Russ & Daughters being the perfect example.
The issue with "Appetizing" is not that the word is disappearing, but that the business line is disappearing. And I guess this would be due in no small part to the decline in orthodox Jewish practice.

Anonymous said...

Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing on Miami Beach is trying to bring the word back.