Overheard: Hymie’s Deli in Merion Station

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The storefront of Hymie’s | Photos by Selah Maya Zighelboim

In the slow winter weeks of late December and early January, when I was still a fresh-faced Jewish Exponent reporter (instead of the grizzled veteran of eight months I am now), the idea of doing an Overheard series at local Jewish haunts came up at a pitch meeting.

In the tradition of many blogs and Twitter accounts, the goal would be to overhear pieces of conversations that capture the heart and soul of our Jewish community.

Months later, at another slow time of year, the idea cropped up again, and I somehow got assigned the story. So two times this past week, during brunch on a Sunday and a weekday dinner, I headed to Hymie’s Delicatessen, a quintessential Jewish spot in Merion Station, to overhear talk on some of the community’s favorite topics, like grandchildren, going “down the shore” and, perhaps most beloved of all, food.


I had been to Hymie’s twice before, when I had relatives in town. Both times our server sat my group near the pickle bar, a salad bar-type fixture that offers a variety of pickles, including pickled tomatoes, as well as pasta salads and coleslaws.

Pickle bar

In case you are unfamiliar, Hymie’s, though not certified kosher, is about as typical a Jewish deli as you can get in the 21st century. When you first walk in, you see a display case filled with cakes big enough to feed entire families — if not an army. The menu features all the Jewish deli classics, from matzah ball soup to overstuffed corned beef sandwiches.

On Sunday, I arrived just before 10:30 a.m. to a mostly empty restaurant, but by the time I left nearly two hours later, the place was crowded and hopping.

To my devastation, my server sat me away from most of the other customers, and not at all close to the pickle bar. There was only one other occupied table nearby. Two men sat there, and while they appeared to be having a rather colorful conversation, they spoke in voices too deep for me to hear over the clatter of dishes and silverware.

So I headed over to the pickles, hoping to catch some conversation there and on the way. Besides some small talk about chocolate chip pancakes, though, I didn’t hear much.

Luckily, when I returned, the tables around me began to fill up. Kudos to the acoustics in Hymie’s, though, as I couldn’t hear anything beyond the tables directly next to me.

To my right, the server sat a father and young son. The kid colored while dad looked at his cell phone.

The food’s arrival seemed to invigorate their relationship. The father seemed inspired to explain sports to his son and discuss upcoming shore plans.

Later, to my left, the server sat what I thought was a mother and son, whom I approximated to be late elementary school age. The woman quickly and with much nachas introduced herself as the boy’s grandmother to the server. The boy was spending the weekend with her as his parents were out of town.

“My god, look at the size of that sandwich,” grandma said when her food arrived, putting into words everyone’s experience at a Jewish deli. “How do I get this in my mouth?”

It was a sentiment echoed at other tables.

“Woah,” a middle-aged man said upon an omelette’s arrival.

Meats behind the deli counter

During the weekday dinner, I was once again sat in the same area. It must be where people who eat by themselves are placed because a line of old single ladies chowing down on bagels and salads sat in my same row.

It was certainly a quieter time at Hymie’s, and I found it easier to overhear. But it came at a cost, as there was less to overhear.

Here are some snippets from that evening:

“Have you heard of this? Instagram?”

“My first is Harvard, my second is Columbia, my third is NYU. My siblings keep telling me I need a backup school.”

“We need a box.” This one was said by a man to a server before he turned to his cell phone and began reading aloud the menu of a different restaurant to his dinner companion.

Eventually, it came time for me to end this great experiment in journalism.

My conclusion is, that while Hymie’s might be a great place to enjoy some kippered salmon, coming to the delicatessen to eavesdrop on a private conversation isn’t that great of an idea.

szighelboim@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

7 COMMENTS

  1. The Kosher Marketplace located inside the Penn Valley (Narberth) Acme has recently deteriorated. Wishing Hymie’s might take over the troubled Acme and run that store in a more forward really Kosher Experience operation.

    • This week Acme (Albertsons) is taking over the Rite Aid drug stores. Hope they don’t sell kosher food in Rite Aid stores, as they are promising to add many Acme food items to the Rite Aid menu.

  2. Wow. Remind me never to go to Hymie’s. I would hate to have somebody listen to my private conversations and report them for the amusement of others. Is this what passes for journalism today? No wonder newspapers are dying.

  3. I was on the Route 65 bus along City Avenue on Thursday afternoon around 4 p.m. An employee of Hymie’s got on the bus (I’m guessing he’s an employee as he was wearing a black T-shirt that said “Deli-Deli, Hymies). He had his pants falling off his rear end so that everyone saw his underwear and was cursing, including the f-word with the people he got on the bus with. Broke my heart because I remember going to Hymie’s a lot in the 1960s with my parents. I will not go there now — not if this is an example of their employees. Don’t employees realize if they are in uniform they are a walking ad for the business?

    • What does it matter how he acts on public transportation if he does a good job when he is working? What he does when he is not at work is really none of your business…

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