Sunday, February 15, 2009

Deli Memories

Last night as I slept in Waikiki I dreamed of long ago . . . when I awakened, it was to the reality in the next picture . . . still . . . .
Click on photos to enlarge!

" Time is really the only capitol that any human being has, and the one thing he (sic) can't afford to lose."


"Intellectuals are reliable lagging indicators, near infallible guides to what used to be true."
Charles R. Morris

"The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little."

Thomas Merton

Sweet Akita! Love your red lei-

Although I enjoy the local foods of Hawaii (a lot!) there will always be a special place in my heart for authentic Deli (delicatessen) handed out with jokey brusqueness in an urban (read: "gritty") setting. And no corporate chains, please! I did, after all, grow up on the East Coast. So only a family owned & operated place, one where you stand at the counter, qualifies.

I still remember the Koch family: Sid, Frances, Louis & Bobby, who operated a very tiny, crowded, neighborhood beacon, cop hang-out, and social service agency (for all the college students from the nearby universities: Penn and Drexel who over ran the West Philadelphia from Fall to Spring).

I was a neighborhood hippy/artiste cleaning banks at night for MY father's family business. I was proud to be working-class, and was therefore stubbornly alienated from the college kids AND the cops, but I shared Philly born & breds with the Kochs, in fact Sid had known my taxi driving grandfather.

The wait was long at Koch's Deli, but they passed around so much good sliced cheese and cold cuts on waxed paper that you were full by the time you got your sandwich. And what a sandwich! Even the glorification of memory does not exaggerate, I'm certain. Only the TOP quality stuff available, but rarely purveyed, always demanded by Sid. All piled ridiculously high on a real Italian roll that had been baked fresh that morning at Amoroso's bakery. Huge, long and "two-meals" heavy - no gristle, unnecessary fat, or additives. Just pure nourishment and joy! All proceeding from the decency and Philly Aloha of the Koch family at 47th & Locust, around 11 blocks from my grandparent's house on Cedar Avenue. These were the streets where my parents grew up, met and married.

I find myself longing for those sandwiches sometimes. Unfortunately I judge all pretenders (and they are all pretenders) by those heroic Hoagies. (you might know their pale descendants as Po` Boys or Subways).

I also pause sometimes and remember the Koch's themselves - all gone now - with love and gratitude for their generosity of spirit, roast beef, and a "tab" on long weekends with no cash. They quietly did a lot for the neighborhood oddball (trying to be a writer) now that I look back with the eyes of an adult.

And so I remain, grateful for the food, love and life lessons I learned hanging around Koch's. Returning to Philadelphia for a business trip decades later I was ready to remind Bobby who I was. "I know who you are." he said first, as if I'd been there the day before. He was the last of them and died years ago. A friend from back in the day called me here in Hawaii and sent me the obituary.

I sure would love to spend a half hour in that past, to laugh at Louis' crappy jokes (lovely man!) one more time. So thank you, Koch family. You were family to so many people, so many generations of college students. And truly to me. Nobility behind a slicer. RIP.

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of Milton Parker co-owner/operator of New York's iconic Carnegie Deli since 1976. He began each day's lunch with a foot-long hot dog. This week his daughter placed one in his coffin. He was 90 years old. And don't get me started about REAL sour tomatoes!

A L O H A! Cloudia