Good EATs

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The salad bar from the second floor dining area at Eli's Essentials on 91st and Madison Avenue.

Monday, November 13, 2023. A busy weekend in New York. Sunny but cold (40s), so people were out and about.

Around and about Noo Yawk. Last Friday JH and I had one of our very occasional face-to-face meetings — Otherwise in our work history, which is now a quarter century (!!), we have never worked under the same roof. Ever. It was quite accidental in the beginning but it has continued naturally and quite conveniently. There is something positive to be said about such an arrangement — i.e. thank God!

I’m an old Zabar’s fan dating back to the 1970s — the brothers’ shop, which really has become an institution, yet always updating, on 80th and Broadway. Zabar’s is a shopping habit for a lot of New Yorkers. It’s high quality, moderate prices, and everything you need for your kitchen and your dining room table, especially for your daily menu, not to mention the second floor for supplies and equipment. It used to be, in concept, a delicatessen that grew. It also has a real allure for the customer; you feel like you’re shopping in the right place for the best and the tastiest. And it’s been there for a century.

Eli, Saul, Carole, Devon, Judy, Lori, and Stanley Zabar on a rare vacation a few years back.

Eli Zabar is the youngest brother of the Mother and Father Zabar who started it all. Somewhere in the last quarter of the last century or thereabouts, Eli went off on his own on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A slightly different audience (financially) but mainly the same sensibility, he called it E.A.T. — combination delicatessen and luncheon restaurant on Madison Avenue and 81st Street. It remains the success it immediately was in what was known as the “fashionable East Side.”

Mr. Zabar also created his own version of  superior supermarket — on Third Avenue and 80th Street. His Upper East Side version of Zabar’s is distinctly different in marketing and even pricing from the family’s West Side landmark, but carrying the same uber-quality goods.

Eli’s Essentials on Madison Avenue and 91st Street.

Lunch. JH and I were meeting at another Eli Zabar spot called Eli’s Essentials on Madison Avenue and 91st Street. Upper Madison Avenue as it moves up into the high 80s and 90s is basically residential with lots of apartments and townhouses, some private schools and a full shopping access. I drove over there to meet, and found a parking spot in front of a bridal shop.

I’m not a bridal shopper by any stretch but I couldn’t resist taking it all in. It’s a two story shop, and it’s spectacularly commercial. A tribute to White (along with Silver and Gold), right on the corner with everything on the shelves and in the buffet, along with counter and tables and chairs. JH had the same response and this is what he saw.

Esé Azénabor on the southeast corner of 91 Street and Madison Avenue.
The entrance.
I’m not the one to ask but I’d describe this bride-to-be as ready to play Vegas.
And this, a ballerina bride?
Sensible, reliable, queenly bride.
You had to be there.
Gypsy Rose Lee goes bridal.
And next door at Don Morphy for the groom in you — or when a custom suit is calling.

And then we went directly across the avenue to Eli’s Essentials, an old building on the southwest corner of the avenue, probably one of the earlier buildings on that neighborhood although obviously restored to perfectly arranged old with the new, giving it a comfortable, relaxed feeling. The stone floors, for example, are the original and also counters. The main décor is the food, on shelves, in counters with the kitchen behind the counters.

JH lives nearby and has often stopped by for picking up something for lunch or to take home. He was getting a egg and cheese on a roll. Same here. There’s a second story with tables, up a narrow circular set of metal (original) steps. We went up to catch the overview not only of the counters and food display on the first floor but the street sides including the bridal spectacular across the avenue.

A view of the second story dining space at Eli’s late Friday morning.
View from the top.

The sandwich, made to order, was good but the tourist in me was fascinated by the scene including the neighborhood clientele, the restaurant’s beautiful and quietly classy little second story with five or six small tables; as well as the overview of a delicious looking buffet brightly lit to heat and allure. An artist’s touch to it all.

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