Friday, October 05, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: Stephen's New York Style Deli

Part one of several stories about Hialeah.

Stephen's Restaurant is located at 1000 E. 16th St. in Hialeah.

It's a rather long story about how I got back into filmmaking, but suffice it to say that Comcast liked my treatment and gave me an extraordinary opportunity to explore my passion for documentary storytelling.

Project Open Voice involves a handful of producers like myself in cities across the country who are documenting local life, all in a commitment to broaden the discovery of local content. Hialeah is one of six trial markets. The other five include: Peterborough, NH; Medford, MA; Philadelphia, PA; Houston, TX; and Fresno, CA.

My first video, a three-minute documentary produced in collaboration with Carlos Miller of Magic City Media, focuses on Stephen's Deli in Hialeah. Most people think of Hialeah as a very Hispanic community and no doubt that is exactly what it is today. But the city wasn't always about misspelled Spanglish signs and botanicas selling spiritual cures. Prior to the first Cuban exodus, Hialeah -- and Miami for that matter -- was totally gringo.  Think "Miami-uh" in a Southern accent instead of "Mayami" in a Spanish voice.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Stephen's Deli is an oddity in a predominantly Latino community. The establishment, which I reckon serves the best pastrami and corned beef south of Katz's in New York City, is happily caught in a time warp in ever-evolving South Florida.

Founded in 1954, Stephen's Deli is located in the former Jewish garment industry district of Hialeah, not far from the iconic race track.  Jack Frisch, a former New Jersey businessman who went to culinary school after retirement, purchased the business from its second owners not long ago.  A little kitchen remodeling and a dining room facelift left this vintage establishment freshened up, but still old school, unpretentious and authentic.

Chef Henderson Biggers has been working at Stephen's for 53 years and still slices corned beef the old fashioned way. Fortunately, Carlos and I were able to coax the camera shy chef out of the kitchen.  As you hear him talk about the old days, you can almost envision hungry garment district workers lining up around the street corner for sandwiches, matzoh ball soup and potato latkes.

I'm very grateful for this interview, because you don't come across a Chef Biggers every day in Miami-Dade. Ditto regarding the corned beef on rye, which I have enjoyed several times since my first visit while Sinatra croons through the dining room's speakers.

Sandwiches are serious business at Stephen's.

Reasonably priced, Stephen's is a true mom and pop place, blessed by a goddess of good nosh. In Miami Beach, the glory days of Wolfie's, Rascal House and Arnie and Richie's Deli are long gone.  Sadly, those restaurants have been replaced by corporate franchises and concrete condos. Isn't it ironic then that Miami's best pastrami and corned beef is served in la cuidad que progresa?

People seem to stick to Stephen's like the food sticks to your ribs.  There's no high turnover here.  Several servers I spoke to had been working at the restaurant for over fifteen years. Customers admitted to being even more decades-long loyal. In fact, every time I've returned, I've seen familiar faces enjoying their New York style deli treats.

Something else makes Stephen's an anomaly east of the Palmetto -- unlike many places in Hialeah, aqui se habla ingles -- English only -- but with that warm hospitality that all good folk share, right?

Stephen's is open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday from 6 am to 3 pm and is well worth the drive if you're far from the neighborhood.  Take an extra long lunch and tell your boss you're blaming it on the pickles.

See the original post in the YO SOY HIALEAH website.  All of my documentaries were chosen to be broadcast on Video on Demand in Comcast's Hialeah territory.

1 comment:

Bohemian Babushka said...

My Capitan!! And here I thought I had to trek it all the way to Lincoln Road for a good Jewish Deli. In Hialeah huh? Who'd of thunk it? As a matter of fact, next time I'm in Miami you have to take me- just to prove it. ; )