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?