'Splendid' Restaurant of Czernowitz"
used to have our meals, i.e. lunch and dinner at my grandparents'
restaurant. This place is worth a more detailed description. My maternal
grandfather, after his release from the Austro-Hungarian army at the end
of WW I, returned to Czernowitz. Some time in the early twenties, he,
together with a partner, a certain Mr. Beutel, decided to open a kosher
restaurant. They found a suitable location in the cellar of a hotel
situated in the very center of the city, the Hotel Gottlieb.
|The restaurant became a gathering place for many locals as well as visitors. My grandfather proudly recalled among famous people, musicians like Yehudi Menuhin, George Enescu and many others such as the Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky.|
My earliest recollections go back to the years 1932-1933, when my
grandfather was the sole owner. I remember being allowed there
only for lunch. At night I was usually carted off to bed by my
nursemaid. It was probably around the fall of 1934, when I was
entering primary school that I was allowed to sit through dinner. By
that time, my paternal grandfather, who in the 1929-1930 financial
downturn had lost most of his properties, had also lost the
ownership of the hotel. The new owner, whether it was because
of the fact that my grandfathers were now sort of related, or for
purely commercial reasons, I don’t recall, forced the relocation of
the restaurant to a place across the street. Our table was in a
corner; my father seldom ate with us. It had only 4-5 places and the
regulars, aside from my mother and myself, were, an elderly
gentleman a certain Karl Gold who ate his lunch and dinner there,
and a businessman whom everyone called Captain Geiger (he had been a
captain in the Austro-Hungarian army), and the other place, when my
father was not around, was occupied by various other regulars.
This Captain Geiger had an interesting story. Apparently, he was in
charge of the military unit that escorted the train carrying Lenin
from Switzerland to Russia through Austrian territory. He was
deported to Siberia in 1941, survived, and got back to Vienna,
sometimes in 1947. Having met our American relatives in 1934, he
remembered their address, and wrote to them, and through them got
our address in Bucharest.
There were two waiters, the older one a certain Zimmerman was quite a character. He was a little man, with salt and pepper hair and moustache, with a prominent bump on his forehead. He was an expert in world affairs, and of course, knew what needed to be done to right the world, and get rid of Hitler. In the old tradition of Jewish waiters, he knew what was good for you, and would not take no for an answer. A story that made the rounds was the following: A customer asks him what kind of appetizers he proposed, he lists them and specifies for example that an order of, let’s say, meatballs contains two, and a half an order contains one. When the customer asks for one, he admonishes him that half orders are not available. In the morning, just before the first customers arrived, he would study the papers. I remember his face vividly, his glasses sliding down his nose while he gesticulated wildly just to make a point. Then during lunch, he would tell whoever was willing to listen, how that or the other politician should have acted. He had a large family to feed, tips were not that lavish; his was quite a difficult life, yet he always had a funny story on hand. Behind his apparent rudeness, there was a heart of gold as they say. The others in our family ate at a table next to ours, and there was always banter and constant moving between tables. I was happy to be among grownups, and I listened eagerly trying to understand and remember everything.
I remember when one of my classmates, a certain Fredi Gruen, decided to have lunch at the restaurant; I had to switch tables to sit with him. I was of course proud that I had "my" table, but I missed the conversation that went on among the grownups.
As I said before, ours was a kosher restaurant; this meant no dairy products at all. Only my mother, who had a serious gallbladder condition, would sometimes sneak in some butter or a few slices of lean ham. My grandfather was a tolerant person and pretended not to see. Many, many years later, in Israel, that same grandfather, who as a former restaurant owner knew what was what, would pretend not to know that the "veal" cutlets my father bought were actually pork.
restaurant's attractions was the summer grill. Aside from the usual
delicacies of traditional Jewish cooking, albeit with a rather
pronounced Polish influence (both my maternal grandparents came from
Galicia, formerly in Austria, which for a while belonged to Poland,
and now Ukraine), in the warm season, a special grill cook, a
Romanian by the name Popescu was in charge. His mastery in preparing
"mititei", the Romanian equivalent of little hamburger-type
sausages, was unequaled. His deliciously grilled steaks, and various
other delicacies like brains and calf's liver are fond memories. In
those days, the grill could operate only during the warm season,
since it had to be outdoors, in the courtyard.
Among the most
pleasant memories I keep, are the two first nights of Passover. The
restaurant was closed to the public, and a big table was set for the
Seder. We were normally sixteen to twenty people, many relatives and
also at times close friends of the family. Since I was the only
child around, and since none of my three uncles had any children, it
was my duty to ask the four questions, which made me, for a short
period at least, the star of the whole affair. The ritual was
observed according to tradition, and we sang late into the night. Of
course, this being a kosher restaurant, all dishes for the duration
of the Passover holiday, were brought from storage, and the cleaning
took quite some time. I always wondered why my grandparents didn't
take a shortcut with this, but the law is the law, or at least at
that time I believed it to be true. Another time when the restaurant
was very lively was during the Purim holiday. It was the local
custom that itinerant bands of masked people would come and perform
some short skit vaguely related to Esther and Mordekhai, and at the
end they would wish us well and ask for money. Most of these
performers were Hutzuls, (a local Ukrainian group). I remember their
final greeting in Ukrainian: “May God grant you good guests,
proprietor” (Daj vam Boh dobre hosty, panie hospodar.)
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