In a city where it seems that change is the only constant, it is comforting to know that a few dining establishments have made to their golden years with little or no deviation from their original offerings. Three examples of this phenomenon are Rogers Luncheonette, Bens Best Delicatessen Restaurant, and the Knish Nosh.
Founded in 1937, Rogers Luncheonette in Jamaica Estates harks back to a time when a luncheonette was as fast as food got. Going out for a casual lunch still involved being served by a waitress, or sitting at the counter if you were really in a hurry. Best of all, all of the food was individually prepared to order.
All of the above is still true at Rogers. The current owner, Arturo, is keeping with tradition. He bought Rogers from Scott, the previous owner of 20 years, after cooking there for eight years. The menu and the decor remain unchanged, although if you look closely, you will find a few little tchotchkas decorating the walls from Arturos country of origin, Mexico.
Rogers is the perfect place to enjoy a bacon-and-egg breakfast, an excellent sandwich or a burger just the way you like it. The menu is extensive enough to offer a broad spectrum of choices, but not so encyclopedic as to force the sacrifice of quality for variety. The meat sandwiches are outstanding, especially the turkey and the brisket. If you really want nostalgia, order an egg cream or a malted with your lunch. When was the last time you did that?
Bens Best has been on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park for almost 60 years. It was founded by Ben Parker, father of its present owner, Jay Parker. It serves a complete menu of kosher Jewish deli food.
There was a time when Jewish delis abounded in Queens. Now there are only a handful of them left. Then there are some deli counters that serve mass-produced mystery meats they try to pass off as pastrami or corned beef. Hah!
Bens Best is the real deal. Their pastrami and corned beef are to die for. So is the tongue. Although rather pricey, the deli sandwiches are huge. Theyre built on bread that is custom baked to Bens Bests specifications. You can be a purist, and order a one-meat sandwich, or choose from a prodigious selection or combos, including one of your own design. Stuffed cabbage, sweet and sour Hungarian style, is another noteworthy offering, enjoyed, Im told, by Gov. George Pataki.
The homemade soups are soul satisfying comfort food. They are served in oversized (very) cups labeled Jewish Penicillin. Got a cold? Get someone to get you a take out order of Boiled Chicken in a Pot with half a chicken, Kreplach (Jewish won tons), and Matzoh balls in chicken broth. If you dont have a cold, you can order the same combination with beef flanken instead of chicken. They also offer a variety of sides, but when I think Jewish sides, I think knishes, which leads me to my third time-defying stop.
The Knish Nosh has done business on Queens Boulevard and 67th Avenue since 1952. About a year or so ago, it moved across 67th Avenue, opposite its former location, sacrificing its cool retro neon sign in the process. A Starbucks now occupies its old site.
Despite its move, and a new owner, the Knish Nosh has remained true to its original product knishes. They make the quintessential potato knish.
Originally they offered only potato, kasha, and liver knishes. Liver knishes seem to have fallen by the wayside, but a roster of new flavors has been added. You can opt for spinach, broccoli, mushroom, meat (of no particular description) or sweet potato. While the veggie varieties are not bad, Im a knish purist. You cant fool me into thinking Im eating something healthy by incorporating a little spinach in my knish. Ill take my vegetables separately, thank you very much.
They have also expanded their offerings with wraps of knish dough around mixtures of Hebrew National Pastrami or Corned Beef combined with potato filling. Pretty tasty, but not a knish.
What is the secret to longevity shared by these businesses? Two common denominators seem apparent. The first is perfecting their product, and then sticking to it without cutting corners. The second is retaining staff. Ernest, the black counter man at the Knish Nosh has worked there for 42 years. He probably knows more about knishes than a Talmudic scholar.
The Bottom Line
All three establishments have in common nondescript surroundings and well prepared honest food. If you are old enough to remember how it was, this is where it still is.
87-06 Union Tpke., Jamaica Estates
96-40 Queens Blvd., Rego Park
Knish Nosh of Forest Hills
100-30 Queens Blvd., Rego Park
Cuisine: Casual American, Kosher Jewish Delicatessen, Knishes and some extras
Setting: Luncheonette, Deli counter in front, Dining Room in rear. Mainly take out with a few tables.
Service: Motherly; efficient, sometimes with shtick; Counter
Hour: 7 days, 7-5; 7 days, L&D; 7 days
Take out: Yes
Off-Premise Catering: Yes
Child friendly: Yes
Handicap accessible: Yes
Turkey Sandwich $5.25
Brisket Sandwich $5.25
Nova Lox Platter $7.50
Western Omelet $4.50
Malt or Shake $3
Egg Cream $1.50
Hot Pastrami Sandwich $8.25
Hot Corned Beef Sandwich $8.25
Boiled Chicken in Pot w/Matzoh Ball, Kreplach, & broth $13.95
Stuffed Cabbage $12.25
Cocktail Knishes $3.50/doz., $6.50/2 doz., $20/100
©2004 Community News Group
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