From the Aroma of Alter’s Bread to that Squirmy Bucket of Greene County Snails
by Krista Madsen
Our memories related to food – the smells, tastes, the scene surrounding what we ate – are often our strongest.
The most vivid recollection that came out of last month’s Warner Library Oral History food-focused session had to be those giant baskets of live snails that used to sit on the floor of Greene County. The deli on Beekman Avenue in then-North Tarrytown once sold Italian food items, including snails for consumption that, for kids at the time, might either delight or terrify.
Greene County made “wedges,” our regional name for sandwiches, and their own pasta. Residents recall the hanging aromatic salami and cheese, and those squirming baskets as tall as they were.
Georgia Tambakos basically grew up in the Beekman Avenue deli her family owned and operated from 1958 to 1971. Pete’s Luncheonette was named after her father and staffed solely by her parents. The menu dates from the late 1950s, with prices to match. Tambakos remembers when a cruller and coffee combo were a quarter. The food was pure Americana – pastrami, hotdogs – rather than the Greek of their heritage. The most popular item on the menu was the fries, cooked in lard.
Pete’s opened at 5:30 a.m. and served breakfast and lunch to school staff and students, workers from the Mallory battery plant, and the North Tarrytown Savings and Loan.
Pizza, such a staple nowadays, wasn’t an option in the villages until perhaps the ‘70s. Before that, Maryann Marshall, mother of four, recalls going to Ossining on the rare occasions when they ventured out with their large crew. In general, there wasn’t much eating out, and there weren’t many options beyond sandwich shops. The revitalization of the Music Hall seems to have brought a whole restaurant culture to Tarrytown’s Main Street – a newer phenomenon for a generation that seems to cook less and work more.
Tom McDermott has only lived in Sleepy Hollow for five years but described becoming quickly loyal to Fleetwood Pizza after sampling all the other options. As a former pizzeria owner himself, he says he’s picky about the product. “I was so disappointed when they left,” McDermott said of the Beekman storefront that had been in and out of operation by the same family since the ‘70s.
Alter’s Bakery on Cortlandt conjures another strong – and fragrant – memory. Marshall said it was her “main food love. After I discovered Alter’s Bakery I stopped buying bread in packaging.” The pullman loaf was a staple in her household – “my kids still talk about it.” Alter’s had brick ovens under the street that you could go down and visit; and customers cherished the beloved woman who spent much of her life behind the counter, Mary Pastel, who recently celebrated her 104th birthday before her passing.
Anne Petry, whom I interviewed on a separate occasion at her home in Sleepy Hollow, has since passed away. She recently recalled all the foraging her family would do where she grow up alongside all the opens woods, from mushrooms to dandelions. “We’d eat whatever we found.”
The topic sparked a food frenzy on both the Warner Library and 10591 Facebook pages, where residents wrote:
“I remember Breitenback’s Bakery on upper Main Street back in the ‘40s. Their egg-claires and scones were so delicious! And I loved the Flamingo Restaurant on Broadway. They had wonderful sandwiches and garlicky pickles. And I loved Alter’s Bakery on Cortland Street. They had fantastic rye bread and rolls to die for. Greene County’s Italian wedges and also Malendrino’s – both were great… McGuire’s delicatessen on Beekman Ave. They had such great macaroni and potato salad.”
Maryann Deely Schartner:
“What is in Breitenback’s spot now? I used to get my bosses lunch every day at the Flamingo restaurant, also who could live without Alter’s bakery! Ate also at Greene County and loved Walton’s on Broadway. Actually liked them all.”
“I loved Walton’s made-to-order chopped ham salad sandwiches.
“Alter’s Bakery. Still miss their challah and choc chip cookies the size of my head (Friday after school tradition).”
Memories of Summer Fun in 10591? Swimming the Hudson, fishing, running wild from dawn to dusk? Join us for the next Oral History Session at Warner Library on Friday June 10 at 1 p.m. RSVP to participate by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the library at (914) 631-7734.