The first time I bit into the pickles at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen San Francisco, I was immediately transported back to the grand Victorian house where my grandparents lived.
1825 Turk Street in San Francisco. That’s where my memory took me with that first bite: my grandparents’ tiny apartment kitchen. I’m not sure where their pickles came from: a pickle barrel at Shenson’s? It might have been from one of the other shops in the old Fillmore District, the Jewish neighborhood, on McAllister Street. The memory of these pickles brought back others, of the cookies we used to get from the ladies at the Ukraine Bakery, when my proud father brought his two little girls in to visit the old neighborhood.
Poppy seed coffee cakes, sturdy bagels from someplace “out in the avenues,” delicious pink lox wrapped in waxy paper. My dad would make a special trip to get the cakes and bagels and deliver them to Turk Street in their brown paper bags and pink boxes tied with string.
As kids, my cousins and I explored the house, with its scary attic and dank basement. We slid down the long shiny wooden bannister, ending with a thump at the newel post. We had seders in the back room, set up with one long table that groaned under the weight of bowls of chicken soup and plates full of brisket and tzimmes.
When we spent the night, we heard the creaking of the old house, and imagined the ghosts who once lived there before the grand house was divided into apartments. My parents lived in one of those apartments until after my sister and I were born. The house still stands, smaller than in my memory.
But those pickles. The crunch, the intense dill flavor, the aroma of what I thought of as “the old country.” Savored along with a grilled cheese sandwich made on that tiny apartment stove, those pickles set the standard.
I had the grilled cheese on challah the other day, when this picture was taken. Wise Sons, all other things being equally delicious–you had me at the pickle. See you again soon.