STATEN ISLAND, NY – In this sweltering weather with sunflowers looking down from a cloudless blue sky, I remember the beautiful summers growing in the hills of Dongan. And this week, as I was driving my boys to camp along Richmond Road, we passed by a little oasis I knew as a kid, “The Reliable” deli.
Now, at 1244 Richmond Road, one can find classic deli inventory and sundries from a Big Apple, 24-hour bagel operation. In the 70s, an older couple ran this store, which had a respectable meat counter. Charlie Greinsky, resident of Dongan Hills, tells me that the owners of the family were then the Piazzas. A family butcher made the store’s rather good sausage and carried minced meat in a display case that ran along the back of the shop.
The only other place to buy meat, candy, or something cool within walking distance, by the way, was Camelot Deli, now a convenience store by a relatively new Pastosa in Concord. Friends who grew up in the neighborhood remember the Finast supermarket on the corner of Old Town Road and Hylan Boulevard, a place I’ve always known as Save-On and now houses a rocking CVS.
But Reliable was just that on a hot summer day, a reliable stop for a pre-teen looking for something to eat and drink. This involved walking down Dutchess Avenue or Holly Street to Vista Avenue with my friend Carolanne to buy a Manhattan Special, a purple Nehi or a Snickers ice cream bar.
Regardless of the time of year, visits to Reliable, in retrospect, have helped shape our palates. It was convenient, by our car-free standards, to get food right away. Always an excellent baker, Carolanne could buy ingredients for things she wanted to whip up on a whim. It was here that we discovered Funyuns, a food drug gateway to more sinful packaged goods like fried pork rinds and Slim Jims.
On a more serious note, Greinsky recalls a bit of history in the area just past the facade of the old Reliable: it was the scene of a heartbreaking tragedy. In the late 1960s, New Dorp star football player Jimmy Gitto was killed in a car crash just outside the store shortly after graduating.
With that in mind, warmth does indeed make for great memories. I believe that time passes more slowly when you are uncomfortable and these are moments that shape us. That said, the way home from Reliable was uphill with every step, the sound of sycamore bark crunching underfoot and the bleating of cicadas in the trees. It’s a reliable memory that always serves me well.
Pamela Silvestri is editor-in-chief of Advance Food. She can be reached at [email protected].