Bedlam with Corned Beef on the Side Part VIII

Written by Barry Kessler. Originally published in Generations 1993, reprinted in Generations 2011 – 2012: Jewish Foodways.

Part VIII: The “Madhouse” Lunch Trade

Miss part 1? Start here.

Cashier’s check for Awrach and Perl Delicatessen, c. 1940s. JMM 1992.274.2
Cashier’s check for Awrach and Perl Delicatessen, c. 1940s. JMM 1992.274.2

Awrach and Perl’s delicatessen was located on Howard Street in Baltimore’s retail shopping district, where many Jewish people worked in the numerous clothing and department stores. Advertising itself as a luncheonette, delicatessen, soda fountain, and cocktail lounge, it attracted a mixed clientele; many non-Jews came, including ladies on shopping trips and youngsters headed for the movies. The delicatessen carried on a “madhouse” luncheon trade, especially on Saturday, when the upstairs room because a gathering place for teenagers. Awrach and Perl was also frequented by H.L. Mencken and other well-known Baltimoreans.

The owners were two immigrant families from Odessa, successful fruit merchants. They had worked their way up from a pushcart selling bananas on the Lower East Side of New York to a thriving deli in Washington, DC, before moving to Baltimore around 1920. Related by marriage, the families lived together in suburban Forest Park. They belonged to an Orthodox congregation and ate kosher food themselves, although the restaurant was open on Jewish holidays and the menu included bacon, ham, and shrimp salad. The Perls’ two sons and the Awrachs’ two daughters helped out on Saturdays. The families spoke Yiddish among themselves and broken English with customers, their personalities constituting a chief attraction of their establishment.

Bright and noisy, Awrach and Perl was a quintessentially Jewish delicatessen, with well-stocked counters piled high with delicious and appetizing foodstuffs. A long counter for making sandwiches ran along one side. A surviving menu from the early 1940s lists sixteen omelets, 47 sandwiches, ice cream confections, steaks and chops, and a wide variety of beverages, ranging from limeade to whiskey. Eastern European dishes such as schmaltz herring, chopped liver, rolled beef, and tongue joined such American-style offerings as lamb chops, a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, and poached eggs.[1]

Its general appearance somewhat fancier than the average delicatessen, with a light green color scheme and a black and rust tile floor, Awrach and Perl cultivated a cosmopolitan but casually familiar atmosphere. Max Awrach sat at the cash register near the door, greeting customers; leaving, customers paid according to orange tickets punched by the waitresses to indicate the cost of each item.[2] Over the din one could hear Mrs. Perl, who supervised the upstairs room, calling out “one up,” signaling the most popular order, a hotdog and Coke. The restaurant was reportedly the largest purchaser of hotdogs in Baltimore.[3]

Continue to Part IX: Where All Rubbed Shoulders


[1] Original in possession of Martin Lev.

[2] Jewish Museum of Maryland, gift of Hilda Goodwin, 1992.274.2

[3] Typescript reminiscence by Hilda Goodwin (December 1992). Jewish Museum of Maryland Memoir Files.

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