Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Barney Greengrass and Willie McCovey

Walking up Amsterdam Ave. this afternoon around 87th Street, I passed Barney Greengrass, the iconic deli that is generally viewed as having the best smoked sturgeon, salmon, and whitefish in New York City, which probably means in the United States.

Stopping, I looked into the two windows to see a plain set of deli counters and formica tables with the most functional of chairs. The display in the windows themselves was what caught my eye. The right window was full of family photos from 1908 on I guess, a history of Barney Greengrass, from Barney the father, to Moe the son, and now run by Gary the grandson. The left window was one of newspaper clippings, reviews, awards, and other notices like their annual Zagat rating, at one time as high as 27. The one exception to this whole display of Barney Greengrass memorabilia was a big photograph of Willie McCovey in the lower right corner of the left window. Now that caught my attention. I wonder if Willie is at Katz's too. What's the story here.

Willie McCovey of course was the famous baseball player and power hitter for the San Francisco Giants who was voted into Cooperstown on his first year of eligibility in 1986. He played for the hometown Danville Leafs single A minor league team in the Carolina League for a full year in, I think, 1957. Believe it or not, I can remember hanging over the dugout in a pre-game warm-up, Nehi orange soda in hand, and yelling "hit a home run Willie", and in his first at bat he hooked a line drive down the right field line, home run. I was, instantly, a fan for life. There's a big picture of Willie in my basement ping pong room.

Looking into the store and at the photos, it was obvious that sitting at a table going through the receipts for the day was the current owner Gary, who looked like Moe, who looked like Barney. I had to ask the obvious question and walked in, introduced myself with an apology for interrupting his work, explained my curiosity.

The answer, "He likes our sturgeon." That's it, I obviously thought with a blank stare. Gary continued, "Somebody introduced him to our store when he was in town sometime back in the '60's and he kept coming back. He still calls from time to time and I overnight him a shipment."

So that's the story of the Sturgeon King(Barney's moniker in New York) and Stretch McCovey, namesake of McCovey Cove in San Francisco, and for one summer a resident of Danville, Virginia.


Post a Comment

<< Home