|1432 W. Morse Avenue in the Rogers Park community of Chicago, Illinois.|
|1432 W. Morse Avenue in the Rogers Park|
community of Chicago, Illinois.
Beyond the counter in front is an open kitchen manned by four cooks, who prepare short orders and sandwiches. There were three waitresses.
A steady hum of conversation is assertive, argumentative, studded with friendly insults and retorts. "When are you going to retire?" a customer asks of a cook working at the meat slicer. "When I have your money!" the cook shoots back. A portly man with a Nikon camera says thru a mouthful of sauerkraut: "Was I busy? Today I shot two weddings and a bar mitzvah."
Meanwhile, everybody eats. Orders are ample, with the potato salad partly hiding the smoked fish, and the prices were moderate. The Ashkenaz menu lists more than 100 dishes, and 35 different dinners are served on week days. Not all the items are Jewish cuisine ─ beef stew is listed next to gefilte fish, barbecued spareribs next to stuffed kishkes with brown sauce.
|Kishkes with Brown Sauce|
|Sam Ashkenaz at the Deli Counter..|
Sam Ashkenaz, the owner, had a gentle manner that masks his shrewd business ability. He looked and spoke somewhat like entertainer George Burns, with a raspy but soothing voice and a twinkling expression. It was often hard to tell whether he is being serious. One of his favorite topics of conversation was the origin of the restaurant.
His parents, George and Ada Ashkenaz, immigrated from Russia early in the 1900s, and first opened a small delicatessen store near Roosevelt and Karlov in 1910. When the Jewish population moved north and west to the suburbs, the Ashkenaz family moved to Rogers Park, opening their first deli on Morse Avenue. It was a small shop, 10 by 30 feet or so, in which Ada Ashkenaz did the cooking in a tiny kitchen at the rear. During the mid-30s they acquired a space at 1432 West Morse Avenue and opened a new restaurant. It burned in 1939, and the couple had no insurance.
|Homemade Chicken Soup with Kreplach|
The best seller was Corned Beef and pastrami sandwiches. They served-up over a ½ ton (1,000 pounds) of Corned Beef per month.
|Corned Beef - Sandwiches Piled High!|
The restaurant had its own bakery, with a line of pastries which includes an especially fine cheesecake. A large deli in New York City, Reuben's, makes a cherry cheesecake that some Chicagonas ordered by mail. Ashkenaz admits freely that Reuben's cheesecake is very good, but he points out that it is heavy and difficult to eat after a good meal, while his cheesecake was lighter. After sampling a slice, you'd have to agree with him. Ashkenaz's cheesecake was topped with a triumphal glace the color of rubies, which was filled with fresh strawberries.
So what is a deli? It's a restaurant serving a great variety of foods with exotic flavors. Tho it is called Jewish, the food is derived from many European cultures. It isn't a haute cuisine such as that created by French chefs like Escoffier; it is humble food ─ Jews who came here from Europe were poor.
But the food is prepared with loving care; its Escoffier was a formidable matriarch, the Jewish mother, who believed "Nobody should go away hungry." Is it possible that this type of restaurant, with its superior menu and vivacious atmosphere, is on the way out? You should live so long.
Ashkenaz Restaurant and Delicatessen was an institution that for years presided over Morse Avenue, within the shadow of the "L" tracks, until the early 1970s when the business burned down again.
Sam Ashkenaz passed away on November 25, 1985, at the age of 71.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.