In 2017, there was no celebration of Passover because we had lost both Gertz matriarch and patriarch, Fran and Jerry. In 2018, Dee held a Passover Seder to honor her father, mother and grandmother. This year, the Gertz Girlz skipped holiday traditions and went their separate ways for both Passover and Easter. Dee decided she was too tired to create another Passover Seder. It’s one of those transition years, where we just needed to chill in our respective corners.
I’ve made it no secret that Easter is one of my least favorite holidays. It’s still too chilly here in New England for the lightweight clothing the catalog companies would have us wearing. Not a fan of a week’s worth of ham leftovers. Not a fan of pastel colors. And the smell of lilies makes me nauseous. Add to that fact that Eva and I were left with no real plans for this particular holiday weekend, and I was itching to get out of New Hampshire – so Brookline, Mass here we come! Specifically, it was Coolidge Corner that we headed to, in search of a non-Easter Sunday in this Jewish-centric neighborhood of my young adulthood.
I have great memories here in this village, where I could go everywhere without ever getting in my car. Sunday mornings meant walking to Kupel’s Bakery for my iced coffee and a warm sesame seed bagel with smoked lox, capers, a slice of tomato, red onion and of course a “shmear” of cream cheese. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Then it was over to the Brookline Booksmith, arguably one of the best independent bookstores in the world, for a good browse. In the afternoon or evening I might take myself to the Coolidge Corner Theatre, an arthouse theatre that opened in 1933, where I could happily spend a couple of hours watching such subtitled and excellent films as Cinema Paradiso and Camille Claudel (available now on Netflix by the way). On a weeknight after work, I might head over to my favorite little Chinese restaurant on Beacon Street to sit at the bar with the little tv, have a glass of wine, and watch my favorite team, the Boston Bruins.
Ah yes, the Bruins. Another factor in this year’s Easter Sunday was that it was Game 6 and potentially our elimination game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the puck dropping at 3pm. So here was the plan: We would leave New Hampshire around 11am, get to Coolidge Corner by noon, find a first rate deli, gorge ourselves silly on good Jewish food, walk the neighborhood, and head home in time to watch the game on our own big tv (where I could swear at the refs all I wanted.) This executed so perfectly that it will go down as one of my favorite Easter Sundays ever.
There was little to no traffic as we glided into a parking spot less than a block from the action. My favorite deli restaurant, Ruben’s Deli was no longer, so we decided to try one that didn’t exist when I lived there in the 90’s, but which had high recommendations – Michael’s Deli on Harvard Street.
Man–when the stars align. Not only were we about to eat some of the best “deli” we could wish for, the place was covered with Bruins paraphernalia, including the owner (Steven, not Michael for some reason) who was wearing a B’s shirt. We were in heaven.
Once at the counter, a friendly guy directed me to the item I had been fantasizing about for hours…a hot pastrami on dark rye. “You want that with mustard?” he asked. “Of course!” I barked at him with a smile. He grinned and leaned towards me conspiratorially, “You know I actually get people who ask for mayo?” he said. “Oh, that will be your next customer,” I said, jerking my thumb back to indicate Eva, who I was having fun throwing under the Jewish food bus. He winked at me as she ordered her Rueben sandwich ‘with mayo please’.
While we waited for our food to come out, we studied the visually busy little restaurant. Boasting a deli case filled with everything from liverwurst to their house-made pickles, we noticed another case just for knishes. I got a kick from a sign listing the specials titled “Bruins Playoffs Krazy Knishes: the “Jake DeBrisket”, the “Zdeno Ch-ocolate”, and the “Patrice Burger-on”. I had found my tribe here.
OMG…knish envy! Is there such a thing? There is now, I guess. I can’t remember the last time I had a knish. Probably in Baltimore, most likely 1995. To me, Baltimore and knish go hand-in-hand. Along with what any self-respecting deli would call roast beef, which is basically brisket. So good.
Our sandwiches were ready fast, along with a plate of warm latkes (with sour cream and apple sauce for dipping). Oh Baby. Those sandwiches. My pastrami sandwich was perfection and I mean PERFECTION. Warm, salty and richly flavored with just the right amount of fat clinging to the edges, the meat was cut to the correct thickness and contrasted beautifully with the pungent and soft dark rye bread, and the spicy mustard.
I watched my mother’s ecstatic first bite and then tucked into my Reuben. The corned beef was a two-inch stack between the grilled rye bread, oozing with melted swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and yes, mayo (so sue me!). As I finished the sandwich I said, “There’s really no need to order a Rueben anywhere else, because I’ll never have one better than this.”
I agree and apparently so did Anthony Bourdain and the Phantom Gourmet, among others. We finished up our outstanding lunch and managed to chat with the owner Steven Peljovich, who does some really nice community service with donations to the Shawn Thornton Foundation, among others. Such a nice guy, and I tried to calm him down about the upcoming game.
As we left, I noticed a cool Jewish Food Zodiac chart on a fridge. We looked up our birth years and they were very appropriate. Mom’s was Pastrami and mine was the Black & White (Mrs. Maisel would approve!)
I’m not able to read the chart, but if there is a knish, that would be my birth year. Latkes are a close second, but I’ve never enjoyed a blintz. Not sure why since it’s basically a crepe, which I love. And if the Jewish Zodiac could guarantee my grandmother’s homemade Kosher dill pickles, which were so crunching and garlicky, that would work. Man, I miss that taste! I’ve never experienced it anywhere, at any deli or supermarket. The taste was all hers.
The rest of the day we walked around Coolidge Corner, heading towards the section known as Little Israel, people-watching and noticing that everything was in bloom – forsythia, magnolias, and multiple small front yards filled with tulips and daffodils. I wanted to explore a side street and my mother chose Beal Street so I could see the cathedral of giant sycamore trees, and the birth home of John F. Kennedy.
We ended up at J.P. Licks for some Extreme Chocolate ice cream to end our gastronomic adventure. As we left the shop, I noticed the marquee at the Coolidge Corner Theatre read, “Julianne Moore here on Thursday to accept her Coolidge Award!” From the ice cream to the theatre, this neighborhood remains “cool” in every way.
Not a big fan of Easter either, Lisa. But I was as a child. My mother’s family did it up great (as a secular holiday). Egg hunts are among my favorite memories. My cousin Michael was very competitive, and I’m not, so I enjoyed finding eggs and leaving them alone so that he could find them. I didn’t care about the eggs; my joy was watching my adored cousin’s face as he found what I left alone.
In 2017, I hosted Easter for my husband Doug’s family. It was a lot of fun, making baskets for the grandkids, and watching them open them with the excitement I remembered as a child.
And it was wonderful to see the kids enjoy what I had created. I imagine that was what it felt like for my grandparents.
This year, I found myself too tired to do Passover or Easter. I just wanted to be indulged. So my husband Doug, his mother Ellen and I went for Easter Brunch at the Westford Regency.
It was great. (And don’t tell anyone, but Ellen took her cranberry muffin home.) Plenty crowded, but so well organized you felt as if you were the only ones there. The staff was so attentive, and the food was plentiful, fresh and delicious. I piled my plate with the usual buffet offerings I go for. But I also added pot stickers, which Ellen pointed out to me. Yum!
And then there was the Easter bunny, which most of the kids seemed to love. Some kids are afraid of big, walking cartoon characters; I know I was as a child. As an adult, all I could think was how hot the actor must have been in the costume. But he (or she) carried it off with aplomb.
As always at a brunch buffet, I wished that I could make a second pass and try some of the other offerings, like ham and prime rib, but alas, I was too full. I did manage a cream puff (a usual go-to dessert) and it was heavenly. The Westford Regency does a Sunday brunch that I love. It’s not as expansive (or expensive) as this holiday brunch, but is always just as good.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
We are happy for every happy holiday we have – even for the ones that offer us a break from the kitchen and offer up some quality time to simply enjoy a meal….with mayonnaise or not!
Dee was grateful for her hassle-free and wonderful brunch with her hubby and mother-in-law. And as for Lisa and Eva, they got home in time for the puck drop, and yes, of course the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs to stay in the series. Because nothing could’ve gone wrong on their perfect “non-Easter” Sunday!