One of the reasons I became what people call a “food writer” was my clam-broth baptism in the behemoth, much-mourned Brooklyn restaurant called Lundy’s. That fish palace on Sheepshead Bay coalesced a constellation of 20th-century American values: collective melting-pot festivity (it seated more than 3000), the promise of local unpolluted cornucopia (littlenecks and fluke from right outside, sort of), institutionalized racism (underpaid all-black staff), and working-class strife (a bloody strike).
My personal attachment, however, was identical to that of many Brooklyn-Jewish contemporaries: beaten biscuits hot enough to melt the icy butter-pat, sandy clams, salty bisque — and a first view of fat, glistening lobster and its pillowy reward inside.
My father, who beamed to see his two boys join him in the pleasures of the table, had one signature selfishness (that I knew of, anyway): Lundy’s lobster was his, only his. Mom didn’t really enjoy it the way he did, and it was out of bounds — as was most everything a la carte — for Leslie and me.
Yes, Leslie. He hated his name, always said that I was the one who should have been Leslie. Sweet.
We lived in a postwar apartment on Ocean Avenue, close enough to walk as a family on weekends to an early Lundy’s meal. When we were led through the cavernous dining rooms, the immense din, the metallic kitchen clatter, the aural and visual evidence of irrevocable mass pleasure made me as happy as I think I have ever been.
Still, for me, growing up meant ordering anything I wanted — and paying for it myself. Of course, I never did the latter when I was a restaurant critic.
Anyway, once we brought Grandma. Mary Weinstein — Mary? Is that a Jewish name? — kept a kosher home, but my father, the black-sheep favorite of seven, had a trick. He began months before telling her that there was a special Weinstein dietary “dispensation” for lobster. He worked it, and worked it. Just for Weinsteins, he said, grinning his used-car salesman grin. Just for us.
“Here, Mom,” and he lifted a chunk of his trayfe fra diavolo on his fork to her mouth.
Can you imagine the expression of warring impulses on her face? I watched my white-haired grandma sink in luxurious defeat. Her darling Hashel could do that every time.
If they had had websites named “Renegade Kosher” then, “Weinstein” would have been a constant keyword.
So what drew out this piece of delicate nostalgia? I was recently asked to eat and rate the kosher offerings at the insultingly expensive Citi Field and Yankee Stadium by the folks at the Forward. Results? I hope you’re a Mets fan, or at least can pretend for just those few hours that I’m your dad and allow yourself an online, adoptive, baseball-park “Weinstein dispensation.”
Happy 4th of July,
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