Friday, September 28, 2007

i need the recipe for a hot potato knish. yes, NEED.

...and also the recipe for a Monte Christo sandwich. Anything else I'll let you know.

Daves' Delicatessen no longer exists. That is a crime and a crying shame. I've heard that Dave and Shirley started up another place after the Blue Mouse Block was torn down, but that happened after I'd moved away.

At the time I'm talking about, Daves' Deli was located on 3rd and Morrison, down in the seedy numbers of downtown Portland, Oregon, three blocks up from the Willamette river. On the one hand it was just down the street from the hippie-lefty Looking Glass Bookstore, which was cool. Unfortunately it also happened to be right around the corner from the Blue Mouse Theater*, notorious at that time for playing triple-X movies. (Incidentally this place had the single coolest sign* I have ever seen or will ever see period... a long vertical strip of neon and painted tin, blue on blue, reading

with small, villainous-looking mice that scampered and flickered all around the margins from the time the sun went down until 5 am. By God, I would pay money to see that sign again. It lit my way home from many a party out where I had no business being.)

Anyway. Daves'.

Daves' was on a dogleg, open on the 3rd Street side to the barroom, making a right angle behind the pawn shop and exiting onto Morrison through the cafeteria.

The bar was called The Ranch Room...wagon wheel lights, longhorn mounts, heavy on the rustic, sticky on the upholstery. All the stewbums that could stagger up from Burnside that far sat in the booths and eyeballed the perverts waiting for the matinee to start next door while both parties drank and smoked like chimneys.

On the Morrison street side the door opened between two big windows with a gold star of David painted on on each one, one side saying 'Daves' Delicatessen' in Hebrew, the other in English. Daves' wife had a whole garden full of plants in each window, all of them struggling along in the pale rainy light and the steamy, cigarette- flavored air. Stacks of rumpled Nickel ads were crammed between the pots.

During the morning and early afternoon the old people claimed the seats just inside the Morrison street windows so they could see to read the paper. Later in the afternoon when I rolled in they were usually long gone and I would snag the booth and pore over the left-behind Yiddish newspapers, which might as well have been in Chinese for all I knew. I got the biggest kick out of seeing things like Lampheres Furniture or Tom Pedersons' Ford ads in Hebrew.

The place was one long line from the 3rd street door: coat rack, cigarette machine and small table to the left where the help would break, and then the line. Next came three little two-tops running center, and across the aisle booths lining the far wall all the way down to the cash register. Anemic pothos and variegated spider plants garlanded with fuzzy brown cobwebs swung high overhead, and old rope encircled pictures of cowboy brands decorated the walls up into the gloom.

For the entire time I went there the steam line was the domain of a small and very gay gentleman in countermans' whites, bald as an egg, who ran up and down up and down all day long like a parrot in a cage, never missing a customer, never spilling a drop. This guy had panache. He moved like Fred Astaire and he talked a running line of b.s. like a vaudeville sidekick.

When Dave ran the kitchen and his wife Shirley ran the till the jokes and commentary were non-stop. A lot of what was said back and forth between the kitchen, the register and the steam line got huge laughs from the regular clientele, and it's only now that I look back on it that I realize that there was some was pretty racy stuff flying back and forth across the dining room. Sometimes it all lapsed into Yiddish, and the altercockers* up by the door liked that a lot. Half the time you walked in the whole place would be a riot of laughter...Shirley whooping and leaning on the cash register, some old guy next to the door smacking himself on the leg with his Yiddish version of the Oregonian and about ready to have a heart attack, he was laughing so hard.

They called me 'sweetheart'. Everyone did.

I used to have dinner there when I was feeling low. It helped that the place was on my bus route, a half a block down from the open air market where I transferred onto the #30.

I had hot potato knishes with brown gravy, green beans, matzoh ball soup, corn with pimentos and peas, and a Dr. Browns soda. There is nothing nicer on a rainy evening than a hot potato knish. (It was a big ball of mashed potato, browned on the outside, with some yummy meatloaf inside and brown gravy over top of it. It was one of those foods that you were so greedy for and grateful to eat when it arrived that it was gone before you could figure out what was in it, or I'd be making it to this day. Ak, I could kick myself!) I'd eat huge huge bagels with cream cheese piled on so thick it was ridiculous. I had Reuben sandwiches and corned beef on rye and fondant-dusted Monte Christos (oh Heaven!) with a big ol honkin slice of dill pickle laying next to it, half-in the cole slaw. I had matzoh ball soup here for the first time, and lingered so long nipping tiny pieces off the sunny matzoh balls trying to make it last that I missed my bus. I wish I'd had the noodle kugel. The counterman was always trying to get me to try it, but back then I though it was too noodley looking. Same with the borscht; too purple. I know; I'm a doof.

I seem to remember this place best in association with the Rocky Horror Picture show**. The first time I ever heard about it, I was sitting there eating a corned beef sandwich with Sonnyboy.

In the evening after work I would sit there in the front booth and watch the people rush back and forth outside with their umbrellas. The warm room was as long and narrow as a freight car, the light shady amber from the nicotened fixtures. I'd puzzle over my Yiddish newspaper and look out through the steamy windows and watch the rain come down. The evening would fall and the lights would come on. The steam would run down the windows and the traffic lights would change red to green through the little rivers of water, and in the background the cups and bowls clattered and the coffee poured and good smells rose from the line. Shirley would wander by and put her hand on my shoulder in passing and smile at me, and move on. Dave would sit with the counterman at the break table and smoke, greeting people as they came in. I would drink my soda and wipe up the gravy with a piece of bread, and feel like I belonged someplace.

*I seem to remember this place briefly being called 'Victor' before it became The Blue Mouse. Am I high? Anyone know? This had to have been around 1965 or so. Here's a link:
...Scroll to the very last picture on this page. Daves Delicatessen was on the right, where the sign above the window says 'sundries'. The entrance to the Ranch Room was to the left, right next to the theatres' loggia, under the sign that says 'toiletries'. When I knew the place, the space in the corner with the pillar in the entry was a pawn shop.

You can't see the dancing mousies in this picture. They were picked out in neon tubing and were suspended by the metal framework you can make out surrounding the sign.
-Well, I care.

**I don't know if I've got the spelling right, and I don't know if that means something off color or not either, but thats my recollection of the phrase.

***Here's another mammary:

...fine; it's a building.

This is the place where (I used to stand in the freezing rain at 12:30 pm to see Tim Curry look better than me in makeup) I used to go and see the Rocky Horror Picture Show! Six times! God! Think of the toast!


  1. Anonymous2:11 PM

    YAY!! Im second. I love your posts Ms FN, they are so evocative - even though I do not know this town or the foods you talk about...

  2. ¡Hola querido! ¡noticias buenas - el topo es benigno, todos se despejan! aunque la recuperación sea lenta - yo podría ser pegado en España para el resto del año.

  3. Looking through the Portland Theater pics has made me do the Time Warp again.

  4. muttley: this was a fun one to write and research. it made me hungry, too-hence the plea for the recipes! XX

    my Rattly Man says: Hello wanted! the good news - the awkward person is benign, all are sprightly! although the recovery is slow - I could be stuck in Spain for the rest of the year.

    to which i say: what have they done to you, ratso? you're talkin all funny like! *snif*

    mj: oh damn, me too! and look at the marquee on the Clinton st. theatre...they're still showing Rocky at midnight! 28 years later!*wonders if she can still fit into her frankenfurter bustier*

  5. Or fit a frankenfurter into her bun.

  6. Altercocker is right, but it's more usually written as two words.

    But I like the Anglo word: git.

  7. hendrix3:58 AM

    What a wonderful slow Sunday afternoon post! Sitting here, drinking my coffee I swear you transported me to there...

    ...and now I'm hungry!

    Brilliant writing FN, as ever!

  8. mj: it's not the size of the frankenfurter its the motion of the ocean.

    tim: git? oh geeze. what does it all MEEEEEEEAN????

    hendrix: it made me hungry too. i had to make meatloaf and mash potatoes last night to kind of re-capture the knish experience. GOD I WISH I KNEW HOW THEY MADE THOSE!!!!(are you back yet??)

  9. oh! i want a potato knish!

    fn, you write so fabulously. marry me?

  10. damn, sugar, this post made me made me miss los angeles! all the old theaters in the neighborhood...eating at cantor's deli on fairfax after a date and later as an adult...getting takeout and enjoying the meal at home ...

    *sighing again*

  11. I have only been to Portland a couple of times. I remember driving by Baloney Joes and doing the tourist thing. Mayhaps I should visit again, besides think of all the micro brews I can visit.



    FN I am going to make you sick with jealousy , I went to a trendily progressive touchy feely school (which was crap) , every year our seniors school trip was to see original stage version of The Rocky Horror Show starring Tim Curry ....yippee - it was great or the alternative was Dame Edna in her west end debut - Housewife Superstar which was also pretty good

  14. What a great post. I feel like I've actually been in that diner now.

  15. Ok so I looked up a knish on wikpedia
    Who's a clever Beasty then
    Give The Beast a balloon!!!

  16. What a great post. I'll be thinking all day about the place me and my friends used to go after ditching class. We had to go to elaborate lengths to buy a pack of cigs from the machine without the waitress seeing. :)

  17. Anonymous10:34 AM

    *gives beast a balloon then pops it*

  18. Damn lass, reading that post, I felt like I was almost in a 1930s detective flick (I'm also listening to some soft jazz which may be the reason why), but that post was so good, I'm all sentimental now for a place I've never been!!
    A place where you have that 'belonging to' feeling is so took me 9 months to find a wee place like that here, although it comes up short when compared to yours...but I'm working on it.
    As always, a pleasure to read!!!
    You have a great week!

  19. ps.....The Rocky Horror Picture Show....I LOVE it and used to go to the midnight 'audience participation' shows in Glasgow....brilliant fun!!!

  20. Great post, i have so much i want to comment on, but i don't want to bore you.

    The boyfriend's mother makes an ass-kicking matzo ball soup, but i don't think she makes knishes. Which is fine by me, because - i hate them. I know, I know... don't hurt me. I can get them at pretty much any deli within a 10 mile radius, so they're really nothing special to me, i guess.

    And don't worry yourself about missing out on borscht. It gives me the dry-heaves just thinking about it. EEggglllhhhghffrrrrr.

    Occasionally, boyfriend's family will break out into yiddish or polish seemingly for no reason. Which i think is awesome. You know they're talking about us kids who don't understand. Cracks me up. There are a couple of words i understand: for instance, the boy calls his father, "Alta" - which means father, and "com siddein" (i have NO idea how you would spell that) which means.. "come sit down". That is pretty much the entirety of my understanding of yiddish.

    Ok, there is your yiddish lesson from the italian girl. done now.

  21. Anonymous2:25 PM

    Hi Ms FN! U ok?

  22. Never been to that part of the world, but you could have been writing about a couple of places I knew in London.
    Funny how the windows of memory are usually nicotined and steamy...

  23. Kristy5:31 PM

    What were you, like, 8 years old in 1965? You're too young for 1965 memories!

  24. i actually went and looked up the stuff that i said was some kind of 'genuine yiddish' and i was totally off.
    Apparently, the boyfriend has been calling his father an Old Fart and i had never put it together. "Alter kaker" means old geezer.

    well, i learned something today.

  25. ***** Trembling Lower lip*****
    Pinky burst my balloon

  26. I think your baloon got popped years ago Beast . . .

    All the Kosher food I've eaten seemed very salty and full of fat, although the knish sounds ok. I once had kosher wine - disgusting

  27. Nothing from FN since Friday? I hope everything is well.

    A.P.B. on First Nation

  28. I lurve monte cristo sandwiches! Damn, now I have to make one...

    You sure know how to tell a story, love reading your posts!

  29. get 2 slices of bread and slap a Monte Christo between them.



    Hope this helps.

  30. Hi Ziggi & Awaiting, My name is Monty...Monty Cristo. Nice to meet you.

  31. Come to my world and I shall bring you the best knish from KnishKnosh! Oh and of course a Dr. Brown's. I propose a toast!