Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old Battleaxes

Nedick's, Longchamps, Schrafft's, Bickford's, Horn and Hardart’s are just a few of the headstones that grace the graveyard of once-proud New York eating establishments. Though in the words of L.P. Hartley, “the past is a foreign country,” and one that we tend to idealize, there is no doubt that these chains had a great deal more flair than the big national kahuna’s that have homogenized the culinary landscape, both in New York and elsewehere. Now we have Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s (whose golden arches have become no less a religious symbol than the soaring white church steeple), Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, KFC, Popeye’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, TGIF, Chili’s, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Dallas BBQ and the egregiously American Applebee’s.  Nedick’s was the most modest of the old-school establishments, but its hot dogs were truly hot, and fat, spewing forth boiling fluids that derived from a unique rotisserie process. Bickford’s was a modest cafeteria that specialized in dishes like Chicken à la King, a dish that could also be found at the singular Belmore Cafeteria on Park Avenue South (popular with taxi drivers and immortalized in the Martin Scorsese classic). And then there was Horn and Hardart’s, the famed automat where coins dropped into slots opened magic doors leading to baked beans and hot dog casseroles and crocks of mac and cheese. Schrafft’s catered to a more aristocratic clientele, providing daintily cut sandwiches served by waitresses in black uniforms with doily aprons. Longchamps, an establishment popular with advertising types, furnished a cool darkness, ideal for camouflaging the surfeit of martinis quaffed down by account executives over lunch. Of all these old battleaxes, God chose to grant a second life to only one, and that was Chock Full o'Nuts, a metropolitan-area classic once proudly associated with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson. The brand, which had been kept alive through its “heavenly coffee,” recently opened a satellite location on West 23rd Street, which serves the old donuts, cream cheese on date-nut bread sandwiches and clam chowder that were its specialties in the days of yore. Remember the Chock Full o'Nuts jingle? “Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.”


  1. This post just about broke my heart, pining for what used to be: the Belmore, Longchamps, Schrafft's, the Automat, and Zum Zum, one of my old favorites. But how about those old cafeterias on the Lower East Side that operated on a meal ticket system? You bought your ticket from a crabby cashier at the beginning of the cafeteria line, held onto the ticket like grim death, and were only allowed to leave the line with your tray of dainties by surrendering the ticket and having it punched. Human interaction at a low point, perhaps, but still human -- unlike the human-machine interchanges one has today at the cash registers of Mickey D's or the King.

  2. you are of course talking about the old Garden cafereria which was in the shadow of the old Forward bldg. Cheers Francis

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