by Richie McNanna
Please note: For those of you who have read my blog entries in the past, you know the angle of my posts is to talk about places in which I like to eat at home that remind me of Disney eateries of similar ilk. Well, this time I’m turning the concept around; this time I’m telling you about a restaurant that Disney needs to include in a park.
I need you to picture something for me: a Gotham-y type place. You’re walking down a street framed by weathered brick edifices adorned with awnings of various sizes and degrees of newness. In the distance, competing cityscapes of all-too-familiar skylines draw your eyes in all directions and give you a sense of familiar location and yet confusion at the same time. Welcoming brownstone stoops. Cleaner-than-normal streets. Old-fashioned, two-toned traffic lights that hearken back to a simpler age as much as they protect passers-by from invisible Model T’s. They exist in this snapshot, too, but they cannot seem to squelch the mildly ominous grimace of the fire escapes above whose metal ingots and tightened bolts form what can best be described as a cold, hard frown upon the otherwise innocuous street traffic below.
Is this the Twilight Zone? Close.
New Jersey? Sorta.
New York…San Francisco? Well, maybe.
In fact, the scene painted above is intended to evoke what you might have experienced while walking through the “Streets of America” section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the first time. (Many of us experiencing this location when the park was called by its correct and rightful name, the Disney MGM Studios.) I always found this section of the park a bit eerie and creepy in its blend of several actual city landscapes into one uniform “generic American city” and haunting ambient sounds of a busy urban thoroughfare even on days absent of many people. And yet, I always find myself rushing to this unique corner of the park whenever I visit it to take in the atmosphere of what can best be described as a mix of Sesame Street meets Cosby Show meets Godfather II meets Seinfeld exterior shots. I kinda feel at home here.
Yes, this is supposed to be Hollywood’s version of the typical, iconic American city – in fact, the experience is explicitly sold to us in a fabricated yet visually spectacular film set context. But there’s something amiss here that goes deeper than the confusion of actual locale. It’s the reason the fire escapes grimace and the mood of the place seems slightly amiss regardless of Disney’s typical style and brilliance: the absence of a solid Jewish deli.
I’m from New Jersey – ten miles west of Manhattan, as a matter of fact. So I know the tri-state area. The designers of “Streets of America” – in particular the New York street — could throw up all of the Chrysler and Flat-iron buildings in dazzling forced perspective they want, but any re-creation of a real New York street worth its weight in cheesecake needs two necessary components, besides a Starbucks: a pizzeria and a good, old-fashioned Kosher deli. I’m Irish, and I know that.
Now as far as a pizzeria goes, I suppose Mama Melrose’s which lies around the corner suffices in that requirement, but where is the deli? Well, if I may recommend a restaurant that is woefully missing and duly needed in order to make this part of DHS a true re-creation of the real thing, then I’d have to recommend the inclusion of an establishment known to New Jerseyans for ages and recently to the WDW Radio family: Harold’s New York Deli in Edison, New Jersey. (The site of one of the recent New Jersey meet event dinners.)
Now, for some context, Harold’s Deli, as anyone who attended the recent WDW Radio New Jersey meet will tell you, is home to the world’s largest deli sandwiches and desserts, a mile-long pickle bar – yes, a pickle bar — and traditional sides ranging from potato knishes and matzoh ball soup to stuffed cabbage and cold borscht. Founded by the operator of the well-known Claremont Diner in New Jersey and the world-famous Carnegie Deli in Manhattan, this joint is off-the-hook. Not only is the deli fare fabulous – mouthwatering corned beef, pastrami, roast turkey, liverwurst, bologna, brisket, ham, beef tongue…you name it! – but the diner fare which rounds out the menu is as delicious as it is equally indicative of tri-state area cuisine. Smoked fish and burgers to cheese cake, fudge cake, bread puddings, and egg creams. It doesn’t get any more authentic than that.
And then there are the portions. If you’ve never witnessed a sandwich or dessert at Harold’s, you might find the term “largest sandwiches and desserts on the planet” to be a simple hyperbole meant to illustrate really big sandwiches that are probably just mildly- to pretty-remarkable in reality.
Do. Not. Be. Fooled.
These are the largest sandwiches and desserts in the world. Visual weenies in and of themselves on par with Cinderella’s Castle and Spaceship Earth, these gargantuan examples of culinary profundity come with a suggested sharing size of 1- 3 people — for a small! – and cost $17-$25 a pop; their legend and proportions are all too appropriate for the larger-than-life environs of Disney. (Can you say, “Turkey leg”?)
Like dessert? Well, we’re talking slices of cake that take up entire cardboard cake boxes, éclairs the size of Hess trucks, and the sweetest, most beautiful egg creams this side of the 1950’s. What a treat!
Well, that is my suggestion for this week. I implore you to Google Harold’s on your own and just browse the different offerings they provide and marvel at the sheer size and scope of the menu. Streets of America needs Harold’s. Disney needs Harold’s. You – in Mickey ears – need Harold’s. Then, and only then, can we get the total, authentic urban experience of an area where and actual brisket sandwich from this restaurant is taller than the faux Empire State Building painted on the end of Hollywood Studios’ Broadway.
Rich McNanna is a seventh grade language arts teacher and avid Disney, baseball, and food fan from Westfield, New Jersey. He is a regular columnist sharing his passion for Disney food experiences and an avid listener and reader of the WDW Radio world. He and his wife dream of one day purchasing a Disney Vacation Club membership so that they can take their baby boy to the greatest place on Earth at least once a year…just for the churros.