Jay Parker, the owner of Ben’s Best in Rego Park, smiles when he reflects on the food and history that has brought even Hollywood to the restaurant his family has run on Queens Boulevard for 72 years.
“We were featured in “The Comedian” with [Robert] de Niro and [Danny] DeVito earlier this year,” he said. Then there was the time Guy Fieri and the crew from the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” paid a visit to 96-40 Queens Blvd. in Rego Park.
“He had the kreplach; and I made stuffed cabbage — that was the first thing my grandmother taught me to make,” Parker said.
Okay, so no eatery goes as far back as kosher dietary regulations. But Parker’s business has far more than reputation bringing generations of diners through the door.
“We’re under rabbinical direction —but we’re also a restaurant,” he said.
Fried chicken, chili, even the occasional chicken marsala are available on the menu along with more traditional fare of brisket, chopped liver, beef tongue and knishes.
Then there the corned beef sandwiches that are a meal in themselves, even without side orders; anyone having tried the soups has no difficulty believing Parker when he says — with a large, proud smile — they have won awards.
Both, as Fieri might say, are out of bounds.
Kosher food and groceries are readily available in Queens, especially around Rego Park, Forest Hills and other areas with large Jewish, Russian and Middle Eastern populations.
A Key Food supermarket on 63rd Drive around the corner from Ben’s Best is just one location with well-stocked shelves of kosher food. Around the holidays some markets can have whole aisles.
Small specialty delis and food stores are scattered liberally along places such as the Queens Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard and Union Turnpike corridors.
Even Aldi, the no-frills discount grocery chain, has shelves from the floor up with kosher cookies, crackers, candy and snacks right inside the door of its Rego Park store.
But whether customers are looking for takeout, catering or seats at a table in the dining room, Parker says people can get from his cooks and staff some things you just can’t get in another store.
“At the holidays I have friends who make everything else and call us for a large brisket,” he said.
The secret to success is hard work and authentic food.
“If you go to a good Chinese restaurant, you want to know that your food isn’t coming out of a can marked ‘LaChoy,’” he said. “We still roast our own turkeys. We cure our pastrami and corned beef the same way my family has been doing it for 100 years.”
Catering to a largely Jewish clientele must occasionally require factoring in geographic heritage. Hanukkah, for example, includes fried latkes for those born in or descended from areas where potatoes are a staple.
“But for others, we have small jelly doughnuts,” he said.
And one group from Eastern Europe forgoes any food with seeds during some holiday observations.
“Nothing with seeds; no rice; no pickles,” he said.
Parker said his clientele includes those keeping strict religious observation and those who consider themselves more “culturally Jewish.”
And those ranging from Irish Catholics to Koreans who just enjoy fine dining.
“A few years ago, I was doing a promotion with some Korean publications,” Parker said. “I came in and the dining room was full of Korean people enjoying our brisket. But all that is cured, salted meat, which is very popular in their culture.
“Everyone likes good food, and good food is good food no matter where it comes from.”
The same, he believes, goes for overall and individual customer service, particularly in a family restaurant.
Parker told the story of a little boy whom he greeted from the counter by asking his name.
“George Washington!” the boy declared.
The boy’s family remained regulars for years. Then one day a customer put Parker on the phone with a friend who needed a catering order filled. The new customer’s name was a familiar one.
“Is this George Washington?” Parker asked.
“You remember that?!?” the man asked.
While Ben’s Best is an icon, there is no shortage of other kosher establishments in the borough, including but not limited to:
- Aaron’s Kosher Gourmet Emporium and Prime Meats at 63-06 Woodhaven Blvd. in Rego Park;
- Cafe Muscat, 178-07 Union Tpke., Fresh Meadows
- Cheburechnaya at 92-09 63 Drive in Rego Park;
- Stix Kosher Restaurant, 101-15 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills;
- Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen, Restaurant and Caterers, 211-37 26 Ave., Bayside;
- Turnpike Cafe, 187-20 Union Tpke., Fresh Meadows;
- Or Yehuda Restaurant, 138-44 86 Ave., Briarwood;
- Buddy’s Kosher Deli, 215-01 73 Ave., Oakland Gardens;
- Grill Point, 69-54 Main St., Flushing;
- Knish Nosh, 98-104 Queens Blvd., Rego Park;
- Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, 35-09 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria;
- Bagels & Co. 188-02 Union Tpke., Fresh Meadows; and
- Benny’s Kosher Pizza, 181-30 Union Tpke., Fresh Meadows.
So whether it’s a holiday or a just a day ending with the letter ‘Y,’ whether you want a bagel or a full-course meal, the only problem will be choosing a restaurant and a menu selection.
credit to qchron.com