In the town I grew up in there was an amazing European deli (now it would be called a gourmet shop) that had the most wonderful things. For my birthday every year my parents would buy me an Americanized version of Sacher Torte, a Viennese chocolate cake separated by layers of apricot jam ( or raspberry jam in my case). There was only one place this special cake could be found and that was in The Homestead Gourmet Shop in Kew Gardens.
If you mention The Homestead to people who grew up in and around Queens ( esp. Kew Gardens and Forest Hills), you will hear audible groans, sighs of pleasure and individual memories sprouting up like wild daffodils. Some remember the two different kinds of potato salad (one German, the other with mayo), others the enormous pieces of Polish Rye bread, thickly sliced and a bit sour. For our family we usually ordered different taste sensations: chicken and shrimp salad (1/4 lb. each) the tiny mini-gherkins, sweet and tart in one bite and of course, roast beef and freshly baked turkey sandwiches.. They had home-made apple, cherry and cheese strudels, the delicate, buttery flakes of crust, the fruit oozing out. There were imported cheeses, breads of all kind, and imaginative sandwich combinations which were unheard of 45 years ago. A favorite of my sister’s was turkey, ham, cheddar cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. It became a family favorite. Going to the Homestead was practically a religious experience, and it never disappointed us. You could practically meet half the town there on Sunday afternoons, neighbors talked and we stood in line like good soldiers eagerly awaiting our turn. When you first opened the door to the Homestead, you would smell wonderful, different smells and then your salivary glands would start in over-time.
These sandwiches were so important to us that when friends visited my sister and I from the city once, we hid the sandwich. We would not share our Homestead sandwich, we would not part with even a bite. That’s how good they were and how embarrassingly shameful and selfish we were. Let them eat packaged cookies, we thought. No one is having this sandwich except us! I remember it was a Roast Beef sandwich on Rye with Russian dressing, or in our code, an R with R on R. Apparently sharing was not in our vocabulary at the time. They also had small individual aluminum cups of chocolate pudding and egg custard. How the egg custard shimmied, the chocolate pudding with its cooked skin draping over the cup. There were bins of imported cookies and candies, and delicacies from far away.
The Homestead was run by a man named Teddy who really was a superstar in our town. When he acknowledged us we felt special. The best deal my sister had was when she became friends with Teddy’s daughter, Barbara. They went behind to the back and made the glorious sandwiches themselves which they took to the beach. We were all jealous of her and she knew it.
To this day, if we visit our old neighborhood, a stop at the Homestead is required. German potato salad, famous at the Homestead has been known to have been brought to others by car, train and plane. We still talk about this amazing deli and sometimes when the longing is too great, we head for Kew Gardens for a trip back to the old days. And we eat. A lot.