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Keeping Up With Maury
Maury visits his old ethnic haunts
by Maury Feren

Today is my ethnic day. What does that mean? I'm going to visit my old ethnic haunts and tell you a little bit about them.

Aladdin's at 13th Street and Carnegie is one of my favorites from the Mediterranean Area. They have expanded to a point where hundreds of patrons have learned about the benefits of eating Mediterranean foods.

First of all, nothing can replace the wonderful bread they bake. That bread is distributed all over the country. It took a long time before you could find any pita bread in the supermarkets. Today it is standard fare. Now, hummus, baba ghanoush, and all the favorite foods of the Lebanese people can be found there. They have the most popular Mediterranean foods and the store is stocked with ethnic supplies of every kind. I love to go to the rear of the store where all of these delicacies are stacked.

For those of you who love fresh dates, they are always available. Those large luscious dates are shipped in big containers weekly. This is probably the only place you can find dates that are not dried out. You may find them already packaged, but you'll never get them in this fresh state. Now they have added all kinds of meals as part of their apportionments. You will not only be able to pick up fresh pita bread, but also small pizzas topped with feta cheese, pepperoni pizzas, and those old time varieties including artichoke pizzas. The selection is enormous.

Their chicken wraps and knishes have taken the city like a storm. Every other patron that walks in Aladdin's will pick up a chicken wrap. The Shawarma sandwich rates just as popular with mostly Lebanese customers who regard it as their favorite.

I have to point out that pita bread must be served fresh. Since it is prepared with flour and water and a bit of minor ingredients, it will not stay fresh overnight. It must be wrapped and frozen. Then it can be thawed out and used the next day. There is no question. When you purchase fresh pita bread at its original source, you will recognize the freshness and taste at once. It is unforgettable. This is truly freshness at its best!

20 - 25 years ago, I used to advertise for Aladdin's Bread. That was their main food item. I also did a T.V. show on Channel 25 WVIZ where the entire process of baking pita bread took place. Today, Aladdin's stands alone as one of the best of the best in pita bread and in Mediterranean cuisine.

My last stop was at Presti's Bakery on Murray Hill, Little Italy, to pick up my Italian bread. What a story that is. Charlie, the founder, ran a small donut and coffee shop just a few hundred feet from their bakery today. I used to stop there at 7:00amand have coffee and donuts. I always spent time talking to Charlie who was my peer. Since he never charged me, I began bringing him fruit.

I don't know the story of how this happened. I'm assuming the family decided to open a bakery and a restaurant. They closed the donut shop leasing it to another owner. It was successful for a few years, but it never was the same. In the meantime, the family started to fix up the corner bakery that exists up to this day. They redesigned it from top to bottom. When they finished, it was like a new building. It took 2-3 years of hard work.

They re-opened Presti's Bakery and Restaurant with all kinds of baked goods, Italian cakes and every kind of ethnic goodies. The sandwich and lunch food crowd began to flow into this special bakery. The food and service proved to be excellent.

Charlie had begun to show his age. He moved slower, but he showed up for work every day until his strength had left him. Presti's Bakery flourished. The patio has attracted many people, not only from the University, but from all over the city.

The most interesting thing you can do is sit on the patio and watch the diversity of the people. I never cease to wonder at how many people of every nationality come to Little Italy and stop at Presti's. It is a sight to see!

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