Boogie Rewind: When Schmulka Bernstein’s Ruled Essex Street

Posted on: December 24th, 2012 at 10:12 am by

Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas is a tradition forged on the Lower East Side of yore. So, on this eve of Christmas, it’s fitting to republish our story about Schmulka Bernstein’s on Essex.

These days, it’s comical commonplace that Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas.  But this marriage of cultures was actually forged long ago in the immigrant society on the Lower East Side.  To many turn-of-the-century Eastern European newcomers, Chinese cuisine was somewhat familiar to their own.  As the Yiddish Book Center points out, both culinary styles favor “chicken broth, lots of garlic and onions, vegetables cooked to a melting softness, and sweet-and-sour flavors reminiscent of those of Ashkenazic cooking.”  Plus, there was a Kosher appeal of sorts.  Since Chinese tend not to use dairy ingredients, there was little threat of mixing milk and meat.

Not until 1959 would there be a specific restaurant that offered Kosher Chinese food, though. At around that time, Solomon Bernstein reportedly left his father’s butcher business on Ludlow Street, where he and his three brothers worked, to start Bernstein-on-Essex. Schmulka Bernstein’s, as it later became known, operated out of 135 Essex Street. Armed with the slogan “where kashrut is king and quality reigns,” the eatery was first established as a Kosher delicatessen.  But in 1959, Bernstein began offering Cantonese-style favorites alongside the more traditional fare. The above photo is an antiquated advertisement spotted in one of the holiday Nostalgia Trains.

[Photo Credit: Comestiblog]

Schmulka Bernstein’s flourished for over three decades before the owners sold the family business in the early 1990s.  The operation continued, but eventually went the way of Ratner’s a few years later.  Today, the original building is not even there anymore.  The new 135 Essex Street is now occupied by recently-opened Sons of Essex which offers an old school delicatessen counter in the front of the space.

So, if you’re eating Chinese and watching a movie this Christmas Eve, be sure to think of the Bernsteins!

Schmulka was also utilized as a set in the so-bad-it’s-good Berry Gordy film The Last Dragon. We can’t find the exact clip, so this will suffice…

What do you remember of Schmulka?

Recent Stories

Woman Shoved onto Subway Tracks at 2nd Avenue F Station Last Night

Police are currently chasing a suspect for pushing a female straphanger onto the tracks at the 2nd Avenue F subway station last night. According to published reports, the 49-year-old woman was shoved onto the tracks from the northbound platform. Luckily no oncoming trains approached the station at the time of the incident. Good Samaritans nearby […]

Cup & Saucer Signage Removed Ahead of Rumored Grand Street Reboot

For the first time in decades, the marquee at 89 Canal Street is without its Cup & Saucer branding. Two-thirds of the restaurant’s signage was removed earlier this week – the paneling from both the Canal and Eldridge Street exposures. The swinging Coca-Cola sign, meanwhile, remains in place for the time being. This loss was expected. […]

Report: Village Voice Nixes Weekly Print Edition After More than 60 Years

Say goodbye to those Village Voice newspaper boxes. After more than sixty years serving up news to downtown New York City, current ownership decided to terminate the print format of the alt-weekly newspaper. The publication will remain online only as it struggles with success and relevance. “For more than 60 years, The Village Voice brand […]

Shepard Fairey Stencils Debbie Harry Mural Across from Long-Gone CBGB

As first reported here yesterday, artist Shepard Fairey took to Bleecker Street yesterday to impart a new punk rock mural. The two-year-old Joey Ramone treatment – what some have called a subtle advertisement for Overthrow Boxing Gym – had been erased the day before in preparation for the next in line. The piece is a […]

Ludlow Thai Spot ‘Eat-pisode’ (Hi-Thai) Calls it Quits After a Decade

After a ten-year tenure, Eat-pisode on Ludlow Street (aka Hi-Thai) is out of commission. The “gem-sized Thai bistro” (their words) closed at the end of July without warning or announcement. Prospective diners are instead met with computer printouts advertising the business for sale, and space for lease. Which is strange, considering the owner’s sister (and […]