Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Pickle Guys...

My last stop (for now anyway) on this tour of the remaining Jewish food places on the lower east side is The Pickle Guys, formerly Guss's Pickles, an institution forever until something happened and Guss's kind of abruptly moved over to Orchard Street for a while before they went out of business altogether, and were replaced on Essex Street near Grand by these pickle guys, many of whom originally worked for Guss, including Alan Kaufman who now seems to own the place.  The circumstances of this pickle juice coup remain uncertain to this day, suspect, but so far in the past that it seems unimportant, especially since the "guys" still give us what we crave, 4 different grades of pickles along the sour spectrum, and just about anything else imaginable that can be pickled.

The grinning guy in the back is Alan Kaufman, proprietor of the place and in the diminished world of authentic lower east type characters, he is now a big fish in a small pond.  Last time I was there, I heard him telling some woman customer, who looked like she was from New Jersey and would believe anything, the story of how the sign at Katz's Deli over on Houston Street came to be.

The story was, that when the owner went to have a sign made up, he wanted it to say Katz's.  The sign maker said Katz's what, Katz's Deli, Katz's this that or the other thing, and the frustrated deli owner said "Katz's...that's all".   And according to Alan Kaufman that's how this sign came to be, and who knows, maybe that's just what happened and what drove the exasperated sign maker to make what he made, which does seem to say it all and still hangs today.

An interesting aside...
My great grandfather Meshulem Fivel Shapiro, immigrant from Kaidanov, Russia/Ukraine, who had an already tough life, died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, so my father was named after him.  A few years later, his wife Pesha,  after whom I am named, married a cousin and there is this wonderful old family photo of the "blended" family which included my grandparents as a young married couple and the children and spouses of the new husband whose name is now lost to the winds of time.  As my father went about telling me who all the people in the photo were, he mentioned that one of the men in the picture known as "the deli man" was a manager at Katz's back in the 1920' and 30's when it was still kosher and just another deli on the lower east side.  Unfortunately, my father didn't know his name.