Ode to Deli

As male bonding goes, it was not poppy rollsspectacular, but the time I spent with Dad on Oak Street was about as much as I could get. Mom did the grocery shopping, but the pick-up at the butcher's and the delis was Dad's domain. This was before America was malled over, when certain streets specialized in various products.

Dad didn't have time or inclination for throwing a baseball with me, but I think he knew that I appreciated this chance to tag along with him on a “man's errands.” I saw people and things on the street that I could ask him about and he could take the time to explain these things to me. As a young child, the mix of races and ethnicities astonished me. Much later in life, the term melting pot would make complete sense to me.

Oak Street is where we went to get fresh meat, poultry, baked goods and deli products. It was like an urban food court. The first stop was the butcher's, where old wooden floors were covered with sawdust. It was much later that I realized that the function of the sawdust was to soak up the blood. I watched with fascination as fat-fingered butchers chopped and sliced their way through a variety of raw materials. A large bandsaw in the back sawed rib-cuts, while the other primary tools were very long and sharp boning knives and massive chopping blades. Everything was cut and trimmed to order, so you could spend a good deal of time watching the preparation of your future meals. It was all wrapped in large sheets of brown or off-white butcher paper and tied off with white twine that hung from huge spools above the butcher block tables.

The next stop after the butcher's was at the bakery. halvahBread slicing machines were running non-stop, cutting up light and dark ryes. Kaiser rolls and poppyseed covered horn rolls were stacked in bins alongside more familiar treats, such as sticky buns and donuts. The yeast smell of the place was like a tempting perfume to a hungry child. If I was lucky, I got to have the illicit (as in don't tell your mother) cinnamon covered cruller (a twisted strand of cake donut).

The last and best stop was at the deli with its cold cases filled to the brim with salamis, bologna, corned beef, tongue, muenster and swiss cheeses, smoked fish, black olives, and many more items that I can not identify to this day. The highlight of this Sunday visit was the purchase of the halvah. The Mediterranean version of this dessert treat is made from crushed sesame seeds and honey. Sliced from big blocks and wrapped in wax paper, we could choose from plain vanilla, chocolate, marbleized (vanilla-chocolate combo), or with pistachios. It was the sweet finale to a very sweet day.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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