Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



My kids liked Corky’s. The blintzes, the pickles, the halvah, the phosphates. But I’m not here to write food nostalgia. Too cheesy.

C&L’s closed, for good, Tuesday. The word in the local press — Cleveland Jewish News and the Plain Dealer — is C&L’s had a problem getting good help. That ain’t news. I’m skeptical.

My dad was a chocolate-phosphate addict. So is my daughter, Lucy, who called the phosphates “chocolate frost feets.” Cleveland musician Mickey Katz, in his autobiography, called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.” (Katz’s son is Joel Grey.) Katz drank “Jew beers” at Solomon’s Deli on East 105th Street in Glenville.

My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.” That’s typically a putdown in the Jewish community, meaning my father knew more about corned beef than Torah. Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

My father probably drank no more than 100 real beers his whole life. He should have! In his retirement — when he drank more — he smiled a lot more. A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. The golf club was a driver, a wood. Solid.

I grew up on chocolate phosphates, just like my dad and my kids. I drank many of mine at Solomon’s in the Cedar Center shopping strip in South Euclid, where Solomon’s had moved — from East 105th Street — in the 1950s.

For some Semitic, semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. This has nothing to do with the present war. It’s just the word strip, as in Gaza Strip and shopping strip, made for an interesting juxtaposition. The north side of Cedar Center looked pretty bad, actually. In the early 2010s it was concrete chunks and gravel heaps, until a real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and put up a Bob Evans and other national chains.

Bob Evans is good. Not knocking it.

The C&L’s at Cedar Center lasted until 1994. A second Corky’s opened further east in 1973. That one — the “new” one — just closed. Confused? Simply put, there are no more C&L’s in Cleveland.

At Cedar Center Corky’s, a couple small tough Jews hung out in the rear booth. One was Bobby (pseudonym.) Bobby did collections for a major landlord. Major, to me, meant more than 500 units. I knew Bobby from junior high. Bobby sued my mother. Mom, for health reasons, had moved from her Beachwood apartment, where Bobby collected rents, to an assisted living facility. She had a couple months left on her lease. She had lived in the  apartment 27 years. Bobby went after her. Bobby’s boss, by the way, loved my band. So what, my mother was collectable.

Delis have been going downhill for decades. In 2010 journalist David Sax wrote a book, Save the Deli, about the decline of the deli. Here’s something for your next edition, Mr. Sax; Delis went downhill when they added TVs. Why are we forced to watch sports while we eat?

I’m deli-famous. Listen to me. I once wrote a thank-you note which was posted in the entrance of Jack’s Deli on Green Road in Beachwood. My letter was about the terrific tray Jack’s had prepared for the bris of my first child, Teddy. (Jack’s Deli is still standing.) Oh yeah, my first bris as a dad . . . fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish. In my letter I complimented Jack’s on their white fish, which my Aunt Bernice the Maven approved of. I used the expression “Aunt Bernice the Maven gives her seal of approval” in my letter. Bernice worked for a food broker and knew food.

Do you prefer Jack’s Deli or Corky & Lenny’s? I asked that question just last week at a gig. I queried a nursing-home crowd about their favorite deli.  Jack’s and Corky’s ran a dead heat. After my quiz, my keyboardist and I played the song “16 Tons (of hard salami),” which is  the Mickey Katz parody of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” (of coal).”

Yikhes (lineage): My dad grew up in a deli on Kinsman Road. His mother had a candy store /deli at East 118th Street and Kinsman. The deli was called Seiger’s — my grandmother’s maiden name. She sold it to her half-brother, Itchy, when he came over from the Old Country. Something fishy about that deal. My grandmother went from being a candy store/deli owner to simply a candy-store owner.

I once played the “deli card” to establish my bonafides. In an odd place. I was working as a police reporter in Collinwood, and the cops at the police station on East 152nd Street considered me a Jewish hippie spy from the Heights. But when I told the cops I was a Seiger, as in “I’m from Seiger’s Restaurant, you know, on East 118th and Kinsman” — the older cops suddenly took a liking to me. The older cops—mostly high-ranking guys — knew Seiger’s Restaurant well. Seiger’s had been like a Damon Runyon casting hall; all manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen, and schnorrers had hung out there. (Seiger’s closed in 1968.) The schnorrers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) solicitors; they had their own booth in the back. My great-aunt, Lil Seiger, served the schnorrers kosher food from her apartment, which was in back of the store, because the schnorrerwouldn’t eat the non-kosher food. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher. Cops ate well at Seiger’s, and nobody ever got a ticket for an expired meter, and sometimes cars were parked two lanes deep on the street, an old cop once told me. Itchie Seiger, my great uncle, was the restaurant’s maitre d’, a k a kibitzer (glad-handler). He was a former cloak maker from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. My grandmother Anna Seiger Soltzberg was a Galitizianer, as well.

I personally didn’t see Itchie very often. My parents didn’t consider a drive from our house in South Euclid to Kinsman the right direction for a Sunday cruise. We usually wound up going east, toward the Chagrin River metro park.

My great-aunt, Lil, supposedly gave her recipe for mish mosh soup to Corky’s. All the deli owners knew each other. So I’m connected to Corky & Lenny’s. Pass the Jew beer. Slurp.

A lot of  this post originally appeared in Belt Mag in 2014. The graphic is by Ralph Solonitz.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. “Maimonides Goes Wrong.” It has the word schnorrer in it, too. Link here. No paywall.


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1 comment

1 Ken Goldberg { 12.13.23 at 10:23 pm }

We don’t need no book on Wednesdays, Bert…. I’ve seen many a shop post a sign saying something like “Closing for remodeling” and similar nonsense, and then never reopen. I understand C&L’s sign on the door says something implying it’s due to lack of staff but that it’s expected to be temporary. There are many ways of approaching this – sometimes involving no more than one’s peeking in the windows. However, I notice EVERYONE seems to be writing as if God told them C &K is closing for good. And we just heard that Baltimore guy author speak at Park Synagogue regarding deli history. I guess I liked C&L and Jack’s about the same as far as the menu but I give Jack’s more credit because a higher percentage of its takeout is certified kosher. That “lack of staff” is bogus unless either they pay partiularly low or working conditions there, for whatever reason, are particularly bleak. Certainly it’s not its location. This is a time when there are thousands of restaurants in Greater Cleveland who find it quite possible to keep going and, in many cases, flourish.

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