Back in Brooklyn when I was a boy, times were harder, violence was rampant and rising, the city was in decline, and strangely, it was more of a small town then than it is today.
Everyone knew everyone, and watched out for each other. Mothers, grandmothers, and aunts would put pillows on windowsills to protect the forearms they leaned on for hours, watching from their perch with eagle eyes, caring for the kids and community as sauces simmered for dinner behind them. The men would manage below, tending to their turf on the stoops; lazily ready for action after work, and on weekends.
Everything we ate was cooked with love, bought at the butcher or baker where never a sign hung about handcrafting or local, but each and every item was just that. Y’see, food “marketing” was what mom did on pay day, and Mason jars were something Local 780 used to pee in when cementing steel girders on upper floors of new high rises.
We had a knife sharpening man, a milk man, an egg man, The Fuller Brush man, and of course The Soda Man. Delivery didn’t have a dot com after it. Craftsmen and farmers plied their wares, barking past vacant lots, and burnt out buildings.
I ate the eggs, drank the milk, and brushed my hair, but the sweet syrups of the soda man made a much deeper impression on this city kid than the provisions from the country.
How could they not?
They were not only delicious they were fun! The brightly colored bottles, the squeeze and shoot, the face-full’s of spritz we’d comically spray in each other’s mugs like a Sid Caesar skit. Hell, we’d hope for sick stomachs so mom would give us a spoonful of coke syrup.
I had no clue my father was on strike from the phone company, delivering seltzer to keep the family afloat when he’d come home with metal cases of cream and celery sodas. The jangling of glass against metal is second only to the flavors that would forever be engrained in my memory.
To this day I can’t taste celery soda without very vivid flashbacks of the first time I had it in my grandfathers house on E 10th Street. I can smell the cigar smoke, and see the paint by number clowns that hung in the hallway. I can feel the felt of the folding green cover they used on their dining room table when the entire extended family and friends sat around on weekends drinking beer poured in short glasses from paper quarts bought at the bar, singing songs, smoking cigarettes, and we kids could ingest all the second hand soda that fell off the back of a truck we wanted.
Those were the days.
Written by Chef Paul Gerard.
Chef Paul Gerard went from hidden gems in The French Quarter to popular underground Brooklyn joints and then international-cool corporate houses. Chef Paul opened his first restaurant in ‘13, and he hasn’t stopped since.