Farewell to Ben's Best | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Farewell to Ben's Best

The pastrami sandwich at Ben's Best Deli/ Courtesy Ben's Best Deli

The iconic Queens deli will be shutting its doors at the end of June

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After fighting an uphill battle with the New York City Department of Transportation over business-killing bike lanes, Queens fixture Ben's Best Deli will be closing its doors at the end of the month.

Last November, owner Jay Parker told the Forest Hills Post that business was down 17 percent. The casual restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, which was founded by Parker's father Benjamin, has been open for 73 years. It has seen a sharp decline in business following the installation of protected bike lanes along Queens Boulevard, which have eliminated nearly 200 parking spaces in Forest Hills and Rego Park.

“Regretfully, after seventy-three wonderful years, Ben's Best will be closing its doors on Saturday June 30th. We are very grateful to everyone who has supported us and we hope to see you one last time," reads the note in red on the restaurant's website.

The deli was known for its classic Jewish (read Ashkenazi) food. Chopped liver, pastrami cured by hand, thinly sliced turkey on rye with crunchy pickles and mayonnaise-y potato salad on the side. They made a good chicken soup with homemade matzah balls, knishes, and stuffed cabbage. It was one of the few places you could find stuffed derma and beef tongue.

Having grown up in Queens, Ben's Deli was part of the scenery of my childhood. Their platters were the mainstays of almost every shiva I attended. When the grandparent of a classmate or synagogue member passed away, parents would call each other to arrange for shiva catering to feed both the bereaved as well as those who came to visit with them. One parent would always take the lead and collect money from the others and place the order. Each time we filed into a mourning home, we would be greeted with a platter or two of cured meat, a stack of rye bread, little bags of pickles, and small plastic containers of mustard and Russian dressing.

Ben's was also where you went when you were famished after a day at the beach on Long Island or where you got sandwiches to-go for a picnic. While not health food, the smoked and cured meats on fresh bread were hearty and satisfying, and reminiscent of a bygone era in New York. It is ironic, of course, that bike lanes, an effort to make New Yorkers healthier, are what killed this meaty restaurant.

When the city began removing parking spots in favor of bike lanes, Ben's tried to beef up its business and debut a new dessert menu. Recent visitors to Ben's were asked to sign petitions against the bike lanes in an effort to remove them.

All the while, it received accolades from Zagat, The Wall Street Journal, the Travel Channel, Food Paradise, and Delicious Destinations. 

"It’s not the lease," Parker told The Daily News. "My landlord is great. It’s the bike lanes,” he said. “Since they’ve gone in I’ve watched my business drop week after week."

The Rego-Forest Preservation Council submitted a preservation proposal to Parker who is open to selling the business. 

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