Where is the comfort food of yesteryear? A lot of it has come back, of course, but some of it never really disappeared in the first place. If you doubt this, pay a visit to Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop.
Eisenberg’s is located at 174 5th Avenue, in the Flatiron section of Manhattan. You pass through a dilapidated entrance to a very long counter: several dozen old-fashioned swivel stools, wrapped in the traditional red leather. A row of tiny tables faces the counter and extra seating is available in the back, but the front room is the place to be, decorated with photos of long-dead celebrities your grandparents might recognize.
“Raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929,” runs the first of their two mottos, and the menu bears this out. Remember that this place calls itself a sandwich shop, not a deli. There are no overstuffed $22 sandwiches with cutesy names here—just a roll call of solid, honest dishes at reasonable prices. The countermen are silent and serious, frequently too busy to be as nasty as their deli counterparts.
You are welcomed with a dish of pickles as you peruse the nearly endless menu. Begin with matzo ball or chicken noodle soup, or try some cold borscht. There’s pastrami, corned beef, brisket, reubens and the “perfectly imperfect” tuna melt. All-day breakfast is available. Side dishes are as diverse as potato latkes, chopped liver, knishes and corned beef hash. Wash it all down with an egg cream or lime rickey, and save some room for the famous carrot cake.
Given the fact that Eisenberg’s has survived long enough to become chic once again, you might expect the place to be filled with yuppies and tourists. In fact, the counter is jammed with the denizens of the neighborhood, who have likely been coming here all their lives (although you might see Anthony Bourdain when he’s in town). This brings us to the second motto: “You either get it, or you don’t.” Truer words were rarely spoken.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012); his second book, Moonshine Nation, has just been published by Lyons Press. For more information, go to amazon.com