A Taste of Tradition

 One of the side benefits of my regional reporting trips is the opportunity to visit little, out-of-the-way eateries. Last Spring, Ben Josephson, who grew up in Worcester, told me about a Jewish deli in his hometown, Weintraub’s. I scoffed at the information. How could there be a long-standing deli in Worcester and how could I not know about it? The question plagued me during my last days at the Mayor’s Office and into my reinvigorated writing efforts. I visited a couple of delis in Las Vegas, where I was out interviewing Jack Carter and spending time with my father for a magazine story about his experiences in Vietnam. During those visits I wondered about the deli in Worcester.

I made it there this week on Election Day. Weintraub’s is in an industrial part of town across from Wildorff’s Bakery. The landscape was decidedly urban and pleasantly run-down. Although not so dire, it reminded me of the scene in Once Upon a Time in America where an aging Robert DeNiro, Noodles, returns to his old Brooklyn neighborhood and finds the ancient deli/restaurant/tavern of his youth still in operation.

I walked in with trepidation to a simple deli counter. Framed copies of old newspaper articles and photos hung on the subway tile wall next to an autographed New England Patriots championship poster. (Myra Kraft grew up in Worcester.) Several booths were filled up with local businessmen and what seemed to be government workers.

Now to the food. I was not disappointed. I limited myself to a soup, an appetizer and a sandwich. I would have preferred to sample multiple sandwiches but even I have my boundaries. I ordered the matzoh ball soup, a knish, and a dish I have only a distant memory of from my 1970s childhood — an open-faced tongue sandwich in sweet and sour honey sauce. I noticed that soup is a popular choice given the number of mushroom-barley soups they served when I was there. The matzoh balls were the dense, heavy kind I prefer; the golden broth had too much lokshen (noodles). I suspect the knish was homemade with spicy meat and soft dough.

But the most interesting item was the tongue. As I wrote earlier, I’ve been in many delis in my time. But it’s been ages since I saw a place offering hot tongue — especially with that sweet sauce. In fact, I may have only had it at my grandmother’s or some other relative’s kitchen. The fresser cut the tongue into thin slices. It was fresh. The sweet and sour sauce was perfect. Another guy ordered tongue while I was in there too.

A word about the deli meats. I saw some kind of certification while I was in there, but I can’t vouch for it. So if you’re kosher, ask. After I ate, I walked across the street to Widoff’s Bakery and bought a marble bagel, a dark rye, and a brownie for later consumption.

The irony of this whole experience is that earlier in the campaign cycle and again this week I the Hartford Hilton, where they have a concept restaurant called Morty and Ming’s. The menu is half Jewish deli and half Chinese. Over the course of a number of visits, I have eaten a bagel and nova there for breakfast, egg drop soup, matzoh ball soup, and General Tso’s chicken (lightly fried). I have never had the deli sandwiches because I have been too busy visiting Rein’s or Weintraub’s. I’ll have to correct that someday too.

What a place like Weintraub’s represents is the time when many Massachusetts cities — New Bedford, Worcester, Lowell, Lawrence, Lynn, Chelsea and Revere– had sizable Jewish communities. They were hardscrabble places with blue-collar, no-nonsense Jews. Their children moved to the suburbs, and the Jewish presence in those cities is often forgotten today. That’s the American story.  In Worcester at least, we still can step back into time.

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4 Responses to “A Taste of Tradition”

  1. Wendy Says:

    yummmm…..how far is worchester from your place. makes me want to go! I’m sure Dana told you papa joe ate tounge…dont’ think I ever tried it but i’m certainly willing to.

  2. Linda Giagrando Says:

    Glad to hear you liked the deli and bakery in Worcester. Lets just hope the new Weinbergs(that serves pizza)stays like the old one. When I was growing up in Hull and it was owned by the Paisners we use to say you have to eat it on the way home or it goes stale

  3. John Says:

    You should “write the book” on all-American delis. There must be dozens of places like Weintraub’s in cities big and small. To my knowledge, no one has ever travelled the country to tell (and taste) the story.

  4. Betty Balestracci Thomsen Says:

    Weintraub’s Deli plays a special place in my family story. My parents met on Christmas Day, 1939, when my mother’s family was spending the day with family friends. My mother was fourteen years old, and after dinner, some friends of the family’s eighteen year old son dropped by. The teenagers decided to escape the family scene and they had the inspired idea of visiting Weintraub’s Deli, the only place they could think of that might be open on Christmas Day. My mother felt very glamorous to be included with the older teens, leaving the Scottish family scene of her family and their friends, and taking off with the older boys to the exotic ethnic enclave of Water Street, and that’s how she got to know my Italian-American father.

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