Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where Did he Learn to Eat Like That? Oh, From Me!

First Sandwich
Second Sandwich and going strong...

When I was growing up we had a delicatessen right down the street. It began as just a counter in 1945 and then grew into a full-fledged restaurant. My father had a charge account at this deli called Nate ‘n Al’s, and it was a heavenly place. Soon enough, it became a Beverly Hill’s legend. Still, on any given day, you can find Hollywood moguls making deals or a legendary actor or actress sitting in the avocado green vinyl booths of this infamous deli.

I remember the Beverly’s and Westwood’s of my youth. These were the names of the mouth-watering sandwiches bulging with turkey or roast beef, slathered in Russian dressing and coleslaw. Two perfect pieces of rye bread held this bit of paradise together. And then there were the most delectable pickles complimenting your perfect sandwich.

Every once in a while, my mom would order cold cuts from Nate ‘n Al’s and bring them home for dinner. I can’t really remember why, but these evenings stand out as the special ones. Perhaps it was her German roots, but Mom would present this ordinary tray of cold cuts and make it look like she was serving the King of England.

Living in Northern California, I’ve yet to find a deli that I like. I know Nate ‘n Al’s is a hard act to follow, but I’ve tried them all. Nothing comes close.

Recently, I discovered that I could create my own version of the perfect deli. I found a great market that will cut my roast beef, my turkey, my French ham, my salami perfectly. And they have huge, succulent pickles and fairly good coleslaw. I have perfected my own Russian dressing, but I have learned to live without the rye bread. Nobody can make rye like my favorite deli. So, instead I resort to some of our rustic sourdough. I try and buy vine-ripened cherry red tomatoes and fresh romaine lettuce.

I had no idea that my kids would love this dinner as much as I did. I can see in their sparkling eyes that they delight when I don’t cook and they get to make their own sandwiches. It is their little bit of heaven.

When we head down to LA, the first place the kids want to go is Nate ‘n Al’s. I know that my attempt at imitating the cold cuts of my youth is still appreciated…but there really is nothing like Nate ‘n Al’s.

And there is nothing like watching my 13-year-old son bite into his perfect sandwich. “I’m growing, Mom,” he says as he makes his second sandwich. And he smiles at me as he takes another enormous bite.

That’s my 13-year-old! Hard to believe. I look at my little boy with the huge sandwich and finally understand how he got to be taller than I!

Did you have a favorite meal when you were a kid? Do your kids have their favorite dinners? What is it about food and memories that seem to resonate? Have you ever walked into your elementary school cafeteria and felt like you were transported back in time?


  1. Can you have your son make one of those for me? Looks SPECTACULAR. Keep up the terrific writing.

  2. Oh, it does look good! One thing I miss about living in New England, after growing up in the New York tri-state area, is delis. Really good Jewish delis and Italian bakeries. Nothing smells so good or has such great choices. Everything is quite "restrained" in New England. Glad to hear the traditional deli existed elsewhere.
    Now I really want a sandwich...

  3. We used to have "deli nights" just like that growing up! Usually when it was too hot in the summer for Mom to turn on the stove to cook. I remember these dinners as a special occasion too.

    Plus, you just described my favorite sandwich! On marble rye, of course. I couldn't get enough of them when I was pregnant. I now call it the "prego special."

    Btw, my boys eat the same way. You know they like dinner when there's complete silence. Sometimes I even remind them to breathe.

    Gosh, now I'm hungry. Thanks! Erica.

  4. Jesus--look at him just Going For It!! What hilarity! That is truly a formidable sandwich. My 17-year-old stepson Hoovers food in just like that.

    Favorite childhood food is hard to choose, but I think I'd have to go with tacos. Ole!

  5. We have quite a deli in Phoenix and I was just watching my son eating plate-sized blueberry pancakes (3 of them) the other day. When he was finished he ate half my sandwich.

    How come when girls become teenagers they suddenly have to watch their weight but boys become human garbage cans? No fair.

  6. My most favorite dish from growing up was definitely Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. I used to pile them high with all sorts of peppers and onions and cheeses. Now I watch my ten-year-old Ethan eating finding his love for the great sandwich like I did.

    Keep posting!

  7. Hungry! Now I'm Hungry! My comfort food growing up was an egg salad sandwich on toasted rye. YUM! i probably could have stuffed two of those down too! Sadly now, both my husband and daughter are deathly allergic to eggs so I have to eat my fave sandwich in hiding or out alone. not quite as enjoyable that way!

  8. Jennifer here. It is so touching that your children adore the same deli beloved by their mother and grandfather. I think the sourdough sounds like a fabulous substitute!

  9. What's the deal with adolescent boys and the hollow legs they all seem to have? My brothers are much older now, but they have maintained their insatiable appetites.

    Any chance you want to share your Russian dressing recipe with us? :)

  10. Love the pictures. I have two of those 'hollow legged' boys at my table, and another on the cusp of teen years. I should get frequent shopper points at our grocery store.

    Our favorite place that started out as 'mine' is a ice cream shop in Missouri. In the little capital city of Jefferson City there is an old fashioned ice cream bar, complete with red and white striped awnings and old wooden booths that must be original to the building. It is the store front for the large dairy that supplies dairy products to the whole mid MO area so their ice cream is the freshest around.

    I grew up going there, when our youth group went to Jeff City for choir festivals or we ventured there to shop at 'the big mall'. After moving away for college and early married life we ended up there again, with kids, for nine years. Almost every day after school we dropped by Central Dairy because the kids could get small cups of ice cream, along with a flat wooden paddle for a spoon, for a quarter each.

    We moved away from MO almost a decade ago but when we went back in November for a family reunion, Central Dairy was one of the top spots the kids just HAD to go to. It warmed my heart that I had successfully passed on the tradition. :)

    Thanks for making me think of that today.


    (BTW - it doesn't seem fair that the expression 'hollow' leg implies you can eat all you want when those of us who actually have hollow legs don't have such luxuries...I'm just sayin'...)