An illustrator and Jewish cultural historian known for works such as Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, a comic strip that has run for thirty years in The Forward and various alternative newspapers, Ben Katchor spins here an enthralling look at the rise of and reason for dairy restaurants, particularly in New York.
Katchor's approach is affectionate and wry, a good match for the advertising and contemporary commentary dating from the hay days of the restaurants in the early 20th century. The Yiddish poet Morris Rosenfeld, describing a stroll down Rivington Street: "On both sides... there were many restaurants, most of them dairy. In the window of one of these 'dairy restaurants' lay so many dead flies on a little hunk of cheese that the question came up as to whether the cheese was dairy or meat."
Katchor's own illustrations are supplemented by reproductions of advertisements and restaurant menus. And his work in interviewing those who ran the restaurants or are descended from those who did, provides vivid accounts of daily life behind the counters and in the kitchens. Just as impressive is his obvious longstanding research into everything from restaurant leases to promotional efforts and changes in menu offerings.
This is a remarkable combination of research and artistry and a fascinating window into New York history as well as Jewish history.