The Grammarphobia Blog

An appetizing question

Q: Pat seemed puzzled during her last appearance on the Leonard Lopate Show by the use of the noun “appetizing” for such things as smoked fish, bagels, and cream cheese. I guess she didn’t grow up in or near a Jewish community.

A: You’re right—Pat grew up among Irish Catholics in Iowa. And Stewart, who did grow up in New York when an “appetizing” shop could be found on every other street, was home in rural Connecticut and couldn’t bail her out at the WNYC studio.

So what is an “appetizing store” and what is the “appetizing” sold there?

For an answer, we’ll go to the website of Russ & Daughters, a Lower East Side institution and one of the few appetizing stores that still survive in New York.

The noun “appetizing,” the site says, refers to “a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American Jews, and it is particularly local to New York and New Yorkers.”

Put simply, according to Russ & Daughters, “appetizing” consists of “the foods one eats with bagels.”

And the popularity of cold appetizers like smoked fish and cream cheese to go on those bagels “led to the creation of the institution known as the appetizing store.”

“In New York City, until the 1960’s, there were appetizing stores in every borough and in almost every neighborhood,” the website says. “On the Lower East Side alone there were, at one point, thirty appetizing shops.”

The site notes that Jewish dietary laws prohibit the eating and selling of meat and dairy products together, so two different types of stores sprang up to cater to Eastern European Jewish immigrants:

“Stores selling cured and pickled meats became known as delicatessens, while shops that sold fish and dairy products became appetizing stores.”

And, as Stewart recalls, grocery stores commonly had both deli and appetizing counters when he was growing up in New York.

The word sleuth Barry Popik, on his Big Apple website, lists several early citations for “appetizing store,” including an April 7, 1914, reference in the New York Times to the “Lenox Appetizing Store, 154 Lenox Ave.”

Joel Russ opened his first appetizing store in 1914 on Orchard Street and moved it around the corner in 1920 to 179 East Houston Street, the site of the present store.

In 1933, he changed the name from “J. Russ National Appetizing Store” to “Russ & Daughters” (for his daughters Hattie, Anne, and Ida, who worked with him in the store).

The store concludes its online page about appetizing this way: “So, now that you know, please don’t call us a deli!”

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