Ask Freddy Loeser
As we head into the holiday season, images of stuffed turkeys and cranberry sauce sitting alongside plates of pernil and rice and beans or trays of lasagna fill Bronx resident’s heads. New York City, the Bronx in particular, has long relished its syncretic food traditions. And while every ethnicity represented in our borough has injected new holiday, culinary traditions (one should only think of recent Eid and Diwali feasts), the Christmas and Hanukkah traditions run deep.
Enter Loeser’s Kosher Deli on 231st Street in Kingsbridge to see how traditional food maintains its integrity, even while allowing for the influences of other cultures. One of only two remaining Jewish delis in the Bronx, once there were as many as 30, Loeser’s has the typical deli fare New Yorkers expect: Hebrew National hot dogs and knishes grilled on a hot plate that steams the outside window enticing passers-by to venture inward, brisket, thinly-sliced pastrami only served on rye (a banner outside the store declares it was voted “best in New York” by a Daily News panel) and, of course, chicken soup.
Behind the display case stands Freddy Loeser as he has for the past 58 years. Situated on this heavily-trafficked block with rival food stores offering every assortment of fast food available to urban dwellers, Loeser’s has thrived in Kingsbridge. I asked Freddy what was the secret to his longevity. He gave me a knowing grin and then offered what could only be described as his mission statement.
“Great food; good service. Treat people nice, they come back”
My personal mission, however, was to discover what special dishes the Jewish delicatessen provides its clientele. The miracle of the “Festival of Lights” is symbolized in the Menorah, the candles that are lit over the eight nights of Hanukkah. As the story goes, one night’s supply of oil lasted eight nights before new supplies arrived during the Maccabee’s rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Since then, foods fried in oil commemorate this miracle. So how does Loeser’s interpret the foods that accompany this two-millennia-old holiday?
“Freddy, do you sell copious amounts of latkes and jelly donuts for Hanukkah?” I fully expected to hear about the extraordinary amounts of orders that he could barely keep up with. After all, Liebman’s Deli just up the road in Riverdale and the only other Jewish deli surviving in the Bronx, orders 600 pounds of potatoes to satisfy its customer’s latke demands.
“No,” Loeser responds.
“C’mon, Fred, nothing different for the holidays?”
“Well, we do sell an awful lot of turkey and roast beef.”
“Who buys that,” I asked.
“The Irish. They love it,” he says, with that same grin.
And there it was. Of course, in a nod to his neighborhood’s Irish presence and a secret to his kosher deli’s survival for nearly six decades, Freddy blends his talents to his client’s tastes. Now that’s a Bronx tale.
Loeser’s Kosher Deli
214 W. 231st Street