Third Ward's Ideal Vegetarian Restaurant in 1930s and 1940s

by Nat Bodian

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One of the more popular gathering places for Jews in Newark's old heavily-Jewish Third Ward -- especially those living in the area close to Springfield Avenue -- was the Ideal Vegetarian Restaurant. Its proprietor was Isidor Kriegel.

It was located at 97 Mercer Street, just off the intersection of Prince Street and Springfield Avenue.

The entrance was through a store window front. Painted on the window was "Ideal Vegetarian Restaurant."

Restaurant Interior

The restaurant was a high ceiling dining room with a turn-of-the-century block pattern metal ceiling and decoratively patterned ceramic tile floor.

The restaurant had a double row of rectangular-shaped wood tables, with a single row of square wooden tables along the side wall where singles or couples might be seated.

The chairs were walnut-stained hairpin bentwood chairs with wood seats.

Free Rolls on Every Table

A standard feature on every table was a basket of seeded Kaiser rolls, alongside the sugar and condiments, which came free with meals.

The waiters usually worked in white shirts with rolled up sleeves and wearing black bow ties.

Landmark Location

The dairy restaurant had been a landmark at that location since the 1920s, and earlier, under other ownership, had been known as the Ratner Dairy Restaurant.

Some Food Selections

The Ideal Vegetarian Restaurant menu was typical of what one might find at a dairy restaurant in New York City on Second Avenue or the Lower East Side, in that era.

Popular appetizers were chopped herring or vegetable chopped liver. The vegetable chopped liver consisted of a finely-chopped mixture of onions, hard boiled eggs, string beans, mushrooms, salt, pepper, and ground walnuts.

A typical soup course might be borsht, potato soup, or vegetable soup.

Fish dishes included gefilte fish, pickled fish, salmon croquettes, or a baked fish such as halibut.

Vegetables included pickled beets, carrot with knaidel, spinach, or carrots and peas.

Some of the specialties included the highly popular vegetable cutlets, or such selections as mock kishka, lokshen kugel, cheese blintzes; lox, eggs and onions, various omelets, and motza brie.

The popular vegetable cutlets were made with a mix of chopped onion, grated carrots, cooked green beans, eggs, salt, pepper, and matzo meal. They were dipped in egg batter and griddle-fried with Mazola oil.

Desserts included baked apple with sweet cream, rice pudding, rugelach, cheese cake, banana cake, and peanut butter cookies.

Some Patronizer Recollections

Elliott Sudler, a retired pharmacist, recalled for this memory how his family would travel by bus to dine at the Ideal occasionally during the Depression era. His parents, he recalled, would share a single meal between them, while he and his two younger brothers, all three small enough to escape bus fare, would fill up on the free rolls from the tables.

Barbara Rothschild, a South Jersey school teacher nearing retirement age, said the Ideal was a favorite of her parents. She recalls being taken there for her seventh birthday celebration.

Ida Mandel, now 87, recalls going to the Ideal for an occasional Sunday dinner when her family lived at 167 Broome Street opposite Montgomery Street School. "I don't remember what I ate there," she recalled for me, "but I do remember that whatever I had was very good."

Seymour Pierce, a retired Newark postal worker, also said he remembered the Ideal very well from his childhood. He couldn't recall what he liked there among the foods, but told me "My wife remembered the Ideal from when she was 11 or 12 in the early 1930s.

She was there with family and recalls very clearly she had a baked apple with sweet cream, which was quite a treat at that time."


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