Food mart was just one stage in the life cycle of this corner storefront. Today it's a base of operations for no-frills auto repair, "flat fix" a specialty. And prior to its grocery days, before one could buy soda, beer, and sandwiches, the stock in trade included beepers and records, according to the old text reemerging on the awning.
On the wall in the distance — look above the young lady in the blue hijab — a sign for a seemingly much older and unrelated business proclaims that "We Certainly [something] at the Bronx [something] Store". What was on offer? Your guess is as good as mine.
Romano Grocery Store Surviving signage, Morrisania, Bronx
Once also a purveyor of "beef veal lamb poultry," according to faint silhouettes between the two lamps. A 1932 newspaper ad listed a dozen Merkel's locations, all in Queens; this Brooklyn shop may date from some later decade. The chain seems not to have outlived the 1960s.
Merkel Pork Store Surviving signage at 415 Myrtle Ave. (Vanderbilt-Clinton Aves.), Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
The name of this former market is flanked by two images, a "Butterball young turkey" to the right and a more cryptic logo to the left. Very likely the sign dates from 1947, when Meateria was founded; at its height, this family-run business operated from five locations in Westchester County and the Bronx. After the rationing and leaner years of the Second World War, the imagery may have heralded the return of fat years — and, in particular, an abundant supply of corn-fed meat.
Upon the retirement of owner Pat Albano, who took over the business from his father in 1960, Meateria closed in 2012.
Meateria 141 North Main St. (Highland St.-Willett Ave.), Port Chester, New York
The diner itself is gone, and a branch of the North Jersey Community Bank sits in its place. From across the street, however, you can still see an old sign for the Skyline parking lot; it's at the edge of the overhanging roof that shelters the bank's drive-though customers.
Closer inspection also reveals a much fainter sign, rimmed in blue, for Anthony's Barber Shop. You can still get your hair cut next door, but it's a fellow named Gale who has his name on the awning.
Skyline Diner Surviving signage at 5914 Park Ave. (at 60th St.), West New York, New Jersey
(This venue is closed.) Placek po Wegiersku ($9.50) can be translated from the Polish as Hungarian potato pie, or cake, or pancake. It's clearly kin to the massive gypsy pancake I enjoyed in Salem, Massachusetts, which sported two light, crisp discs sandwiching several layers of long-cooked goulash. In Greenpoint chunky beef stew was enfolded in a single crisp pancake; both meat and potatoes could have been more tender.
Also shown: schab duszony z cebula ($8.75), pot-roasted pork with onion; the blackboard menu. Most of those items could qualify as comfort food in any Polish workers' lunch hall, but Brooklyn Point's ethos also admits bagels, French toast, and similar morning fare, as well as wi-fi with your fresh-brewed coffee. The pop music soundtrack was in English, as were the handheld menus.
Brooklyn Point Cafe 924 Manhattan Ave. (at Kent St.), Greenpoint, Brooklyn 718-383-0012
(This venue is closed.) A handful of counter seats notwithstanding, this Southern-style storefront is more for takeout or delivery, to "home, office and curbside." An entree with two sides and cornbread runs ten bucks, but at lunch or dinner most entrees are available with any one side for half that price. "Tanasia's sweet ham," shown with yellow rice, is sweetened thrice over with pineapple, honey, and — one was tucked under the bottommost slice — maraschino cherries.
Another $5 lunch special: smothered fried chicken and red rice.
Foot N' It 153B Lenox Ave. (117th-118th Sts.), Manhattan 646-590-1569
This recently uncovered signage marks a long-gone butcher shop — think of it as a child of the '50s. Karl Ehmer, who opened his first store in Manhattan, in 1932, relocated during WWII into what was then a thriving German-American neighborhood straddling Glendale and Ridgewood, Queens. In 1950, having outgrown that snug storefront, Ehmer moved a block east to the premises shown here; in 1958 he moved on to the much larger manufacturing plant, with an adjoining retail shop, on Fresh Pond Rd. That facility closed its doors, after a half-century, in 2010.
Karl Ehmer Pork Store Surviving signage at 62-10 Myrtle Ave. (at 62nd St.), Glendale, Queens
Seen afresh as I was navigating the less-charted regions of my archives, the Dixie Drifter shuttered sometime between summer 2007 and autumn 2009. Flanking it, and now also shuttered, was the South Carolina Variety Store. A truck with Georgia plates has picked up the slack.
Dixie Drifter Grocery & Variety Formerly at 2425 Adam Clayton Powell Junior Blvd. (141st-142nd Sts.), Manhattan
(This venue is closed.) Masa de maiz, corn-based dough, is the default for this storefront's 14 varieties of Salvadoran pupusa (15, if you include the off-menu pupusa featuring jalapeno, reportedly popular with Mexican customers). The two shown here feature cheese with some type of winter squash, and cheese with the leafy vegetable called chipilin ($2 each). From the way they gently oozed at the touch of my knife, both had clearly been fresh-made.
Too late I learned from a manager of an option that I haven't encountered at other New York pupuserias: For 25 cents more, one can substitute masa de arroz, made with rice. Neither corn nor rice is identified with a particular region of the country, noted the manager, adding that the chef previously ran her own restaurant in the capital, San Salvador.
Pupusa Zone 64-03 Roosevelt Ave. (64th-65th Sts.), Woodside, Queens 718-205-5241
The "cafe" moniker is misleading: This former business appears, still, in at least one online listing of gentleman's clubs, albeit in the tamer-sounding "go-go" category rather than "bikini" or "nude." The address — beside a tire-repair shop, across the street from a rail yard, and a short drive from the turnpike — would also have been a suitably gritty setting for the pocket of Caribbean eateries on my custom map of the day. These, however, were nowhere to be found.
Brown Derby Cafe Surviving signage above 645 Magnolia Ave. (at Trumbull St.), Elizabeth, New Jersey
(This venue is closed.) Just inside the entrance of an Elmhurst supermarket, this Thai kiosk serves smoothies and stocks a variety of prepared food for takeaway. Some, like the cassava leaf curry recommended by my tipster (thanks, Elika!), may be cooked by the Maengun folks themselves. As at nearby Sugar Club, however, many bear labels from other Thai businesses. The appearance of these "coconut pancakes" ($3), from Playground, and their lack of sweetness bring to mind paeng jee.
Maengun Thai Dessert Kiosk inside Hong Kong Supermarket 82-02 45th Ave. (82nd-83rd Sts.), Elmhurst, Queens 718-578-2850
Items neglected longer than 30 months may be discontinued. I took this photo several years ago but never did find time for ice cream, Italian ice, coffee, or milk tea. The laundromat has since focused on its core competency, though one can still grab a cold drink from the fridge. See also the erstwhile Tri-Thai Cuisine.