My mother and I sat reading one recent afternoon. She on her phone and I with a New York Times article she had set aside for me. Without looking up, she suddenly said, “Chicken Noodle, Matzah Ball, Lentil, Vegetable.”
“What?” I said.
“Those are the specials at Abe’s Deli today. I follow them on Facebook.”
It was then that I knew — no, deeply felt, that it was time to return to Abe’s.
Have you ever experienced something so good that it’s impossible to stop thinking about it? You go to work, you read a book, you think you’re the same as you were before, but you’re not. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you’re still thinking about Abe’s Deli.
Flash back a few years and I was a junior in college, after spending a pandemic year studying online. My mother dutifully offered to help me make the trip back to Massachusetts in my Toyota Corolla from Lexington, Kentucky. After a lengthy stint on the road, we found ourselves in previously uncharted territory: Central-Southeastern Pennsylvania. With rumbly tummies and the digital dashboard clock approaching 12:30 p.m., we did what all Jews do: consult authoritative texts to see what knowledgeable people have to say about it. My mother opened the Yelp app.
Nestled perfectly under a striped orange awning and bright orange marquee, Abe’s Deli was an oasis for two Jewish roadtrippers looking for a little slice of home.
A few weeks ago, my mother and I returned to Scranton, questioning if we were crazy for making the 10 hour road trip just to visit a deli, but concluding that both the journey and destination were well worth the effort.
We arrived to rain, wind and a slight autumn chill… the perfect day for deli food. Upon swinging open Abe’s double glass doors, we were glad to see that, two years on, the place was busy, and remained so until it closed at 3:30 p.m.
We walked past the mugs adorning an entryway table reading “Life tastes better at Abe’s!” and sat at one of the banquets across from a huge neon sign that reads “Delicatessen.” Amidst plates of hot latkes, matzah brei and delicious cups of matzah ball soup (with the best tasting broth), we chatted with Jerry Mizrachi, the third and former owner of the deli.
Abe Greenes, he told us, was, as far as anyone can tell, the original Abe. Born in the U.S. and descended from Austrian Jews, Abe married Selma Lebowitz, another Austrian Jew, in 1937 in Scranton, PA. While city records state that Abe was a salesman in the 30s, by the mid-1940s he was the owner and proprietor of Abe’s Kosher Deli (which, by the way, is still certified kosher). After Abe’s early death at age 39, Many and Rita Lebowitz who, based on their surname, may have had some relation to Selma, took over the business. After many years, they sold it to Mizrachi, who owned it for 40 years and never saw a reason to change the deli’s name.
“Abe’s was always going to be first in the phonebook,” he said.
The current owner, Renato Luongo, was hired by Mizrachi in 1992. Mizrachi, a member of the local Jewish community, and Luongo, a first generation Italian-American, share a love for the place and community they have worked to foster for decades, and describe a relationship of mutual respect and trust.
Luongo told me that nothing will ever be taken off the menu at Abe’s, only added. From old-world classics like a tongue sandwich, to gluten-free and vegan options, Abe’s stays true to its past while meeting the needs and desires of its diverse customer base, Jews and non-Jews alike.
One trip to Abe’s simply wasn’t enough; my mother and I returned for breakfast the next morning. We were greeted once more by a bustling restaurant, with several tables of people who looked so at home they could only be regulars. I, too, felt at home feasting on ribbons of thin corned beef stacked high on the freshest rye bread, crisp pickles and delicious black and white cookies imported directly from Brooklyn, NY.
When I asked Luongo if Abe’s would expand any time soon, the answer was a resounding “no.” Quality, he told me, comes over quantity, and he won’t sacrifice one for the other. So whether you’re making the trek from Kentucky, stopping in off the highway or live in the area, find the one and only Abe’s at 326 N. Washington Avenue, Scranton, PA. You won’t be disappointed — and your Jewish mother won’t be, either.