Eisenberg’s is open again, although it is not Eisenberg’s. Manhattan’s most famous sandwich counter has been christened S&P by its new owners, Eric Finkelstein and Matt Ross. (The duo behind Court Street Grocers and HiHi Room.) The name — a tribute to the space’s original original owners — is just about the only thing that’s different, though. The long bar and its circular stools are still there, and the tile floor that’s had countless gallons of coffee and chicken soup spilled onto it looks the same. Even the details that are new feel like they’ve been here forever, like a big silver coffee urn and an autographed picture of the late Gilbert Gottfried, which Finklestein and Ross found on eBay.
The curation is faultless; this is not the same restaurant, but it feels the same in many important ways. Part of the credit for that goes to the team the new owners assembled to help out. “After we signed the lease, we put a sign in the front window asking old customers what they liked from before and what they wanted to see,” Ross says. Responses rolled in, and a group of highly specific New York City luminaries came aboard. The filmmaker Josh Safdie became something of a “creative director,” helping to figure out which little touches would make the space feel like its most authentic self. The new logo was designed by the late Kenny Shopsin’s daughter, Tamara, and her husband, Jason Fulford. And Nicholas Braun (a.k.a. Cousin Greg, a.k.a. a co-owner of Ray’s on the Lower East Side) signed on as an investor, at one point stopping in with his dad, Craig Braun, the famed graphic designer responsible for, among other things, the Rolling Stones tongue logo and the Velvet Underground’s banana-adorned album cover.
Does that mean the food has changed? Not really. Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler has no intention of transforming the menu into another version of Court Street Grocers. Instead, there’s beef — corned, roast, salami — that’s best enjoyed on rye. There’s egg salad and Greek salad. There are plates of eggs for the morning, plus a BEC and a LEO, of course, as well as a new creation named the Li’l Shonda, which combines scrambled eggs, pastrami, muenster cheese, and pickled tomatoes. You can get a cheeseburger or an egg cream, if you want. And soup, just like you remember: borscht, matzo ball, mushroom barley, and split pea. Something called the Big Soup is new, but as it’s filled with matzo ball, kreplach, flanken, and noodles, it would make any bubbe happy.
A couple of weeks before opening, people were already wandering in every few minutes to get a peek and ask if they could order a tuna melt. (“Not yet,” the owners politely replied, “but soon.) Another interested party stopping in check out S&P was Jeremiah Moss. The author and Vanishing New York blogger has written extensively about what he considers “fauxstalgia,” places like “Minetta Tavern, Carbone, and others that capitalize on the city’s bohemian and working-class history.” Moss was willing to withhold his verdict on S&P until it is officially up and running — September 28, after this current soft-opening period — but he’s optimistic that the new version of the old place will “always welcome the riffraff,” he says. “And I hope that includes me.”
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