Join the fastest growing Social Network Capmocracy today! Your trusted Social Network
Frances Edelstein, Queen of the Polish Tea Room, Is Dead at 92

Frances Edelstein, Queen of the Polish Tea Room, Is Dead at 92


Frances Edelstein, a Holocaust survivor whose potato latkes, matzo ball soup and blintzes brought cholesterol-loving pilgrims to the Cafe Edison in the theater district of Manhattan for more than 30 years, died on Monday at her home in Manalapan, N.J. She was 92.

Her granddaughter Lindsay Edelstein confirmed the death.

With her husband, Harry — a childhood friend who had fled German invaders with her in their native Poland — Mrs. Edelstein turned the former ballroom at the Hotel Edison on West 47th Street into a hangout for actors, directors, playwrights and producers and a not-so-fancy eatery for tourists craving a heavy nosh (and a celebrity spotting).

Mrs. Edelstein was often in the kitchen of what was called the Polish Tea Room — a poke at the upscale Russian Tea Room — cooking from her recipes or making sure her chefs did not veer from her instructions.

“You eat this, you’ll be happy all day,” she told The Daily News in 1996 as she ladled two big matzo balls into a bowl of soup. “That’s why they come here. You think it’s because they like me?”

She was the indulgent Jewish mother — and grandmother — who could feed an army from her professional kitchen.

“If my grandchildren wanted kreplach — which aren’t easy to make — she’d have 100 of them the next day,” her daughter, Harriet Strohl, said in a telephone interview, referring to the dumplings often served in chicken soup. “They’d say, ‘Oh, bubbe, we haven’t had stuffed cabbage in a long time’ — she’d make 30 of them.”

Cooking was deeply entwined with her upbringing, and with the loss of her mother during the Holocaust.

“My dad said Grandma told him that cooking made her feel not so sad,” Lindsay Edelstein said.

Frima Trost was born on April 18, 1926, in Komorow, near Lublin, Poland. Her father, Hersz, was a butcher, and her mother, Chaja, was a homemaker. Frima learned to cook from her mother, awakening early on Fridays to make challah and soup for Sabbath dinner.

In 1941, Frima’s parents, grandparents and three sisters were murdered by the Germans who had invaded Poland two years earlier, leaving her with only a brother, Moishe.

Harry Edelstein’s family met a similar fate; he, too, was left with only a brother. The four escaped their village and began a long odyssey, hiding in forests, barns and the homes of sympathetic Poles until the war ended.

Harry and Frances, as she came to be called, were married in Warsaw, made their way to Berlin and arrived in the United States with their son, Scott, in 1947.

“When you’re liberated, who’s going to feed you?” she told The Daily News. “So you remember what your mother did.”

She cooked for her family, but it would be decades before she could bring her Old World cuisine to Broadway.

Harry was a furrier for a while. Then the Edelsteins ran a chicken farm in New Jersey. They later owned candy stores with lunch counters in Brooklyn. Finally, around 1980, Ulu Barad, a friend who was a partner in the Edison, asked them to run the restaurant in the hotel. They turned it into a bastion of matzo brei, borscht and corned beef, served in generous portions.

“It makes me happy when I think of all the gentiles we made Jewish,” Mrs. Edelstein told The New York Times in 2001 as she served a bowl of red Jell-O to Gerald Schoenfeld, then the chairman of the Shubert Organization, the theatrical production company.

Eleanor Reissa, a performer and director and a longtime customer, said that Mrs. Edelstein had viewed her job as a mission to feed people.

“Like my grandmother, there was Frances, always with the apron, always with her hands on her full hips, saying, ‘What do ya wanna eat?’ ” she wrote in an email. “And whatever I would say, she would make — and she would always bring more.”

The comfort food and the proximity to theaters inspired a famous customer, the playwright Neil Simon, who died last month, to write a comedy, “45 Seconds From Broadway” (2001), which he set at what he called the Polish Cafe.

“There is something magical about this place,” he told The Times before the show opened. “How else to explain it?”

In the play, Zelda (based on Mrs. Edelstein) tells a young woman struggling to become an actress: “Yes, we were in Poland, when we were kids. In the camps. And we got out. … And here we are now, you and me talking. … So in a sense, I had a bad day too … and this place was my dream. … O.K.?”

The Edelsteins were awarded a Tony Honor for excellence in the theater by the American Theater Wing in 2004.

In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, Mrs. Edelstein is survived by her son, five other grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Edelstein continued to work at the Cafe Edison for a while after her husband died in 2009, but it closed five years later; Ms. Strohl said a long-ago handshake deal on a lease extension between the Edelsteins and Mr. Barad was not honored after Mr. Barad’s death.

“My mother was devastated,” Ms. Strohl said. “She lived and breathed that restaurant.”



Source link

About The Author

Related posts

Leave a Reply