The Celluloid Pantry: Old-World Pickles and Crossing Delancey (1988)

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“A joke and a pickle for only a nickel.”

In Crossing Delancey (1988), Izzy Grossman (Amy Irving, center) is caught somewhere between the two sides of this vibrant Lower East Side street. Weekdays are spent uptown, where she works at a highbrow bookstore, drinking champagne and talking about poetry with the local literati. Meals are taken on the run: a salad bar combo from a local deli, picked at from a plastic container while she sits in bed watching TV, or a condiment-laden hotdog munched on while standing at the counter of Gray’s Papaya.

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Weekends, however, are spent downtown with her “Bubbie” (Reizl Bozyk, right), who tries to show Izzy old-world ways, offering more traditional Jewish fare like latkes and schnapps—and a date with the local pickle merchant, Sam Posner (Peter Riegert, left).

At first Izzy’s coolly dismissive of Sam, but later, when he “woos” her with the gifts of a broad-brimmed hat and a fancy cake, she heads down to the pickle store to thank him.

The sight of Sam at work in his Essex Street shop (said to be modeled on the real-life Guss’) reawakens the snob in Izzy. When she sees him reach into the pickle barrel with his bare hands to fill a glass jar for a hungry customer, she turns away in disgust. (It’s later revealed that Sam washes his hands in vanilla and milk every night to get rid of the briny smell.)

Watching this movie some twenty years since its release, we can’t help but think how much times have changed. Today, with so many independents squeezed out, Izzy would probably be working for one of the big bookstore chains like Borders. And with the recent boom in artisanal foods (and the growing interest in the artisans who make them), she'd probably find Sam’s job a little sexier.

(By the way, the staff at Guss’ do wear gloves now.)

- Nora

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The Celluloid Pantry

Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.

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