German spoken here: Language lures many to Elsie's Gourmet Deli in Odenton

March 02, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

A story in Tuesday's Anne Arundel editions about Elsie's Gourmet Deli in Odenton omitted the names of two previous owners. Nancy Canter and her mother-in-law, Maryetta Canter, owned the deli from 1984 to 1992.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

For some, the most dominant feature of this tiny Odenton delicatessen may be the German folk music. For others, it could be the fresh Landjaeger in the meat case. Or even the imported dark Wurzburger Hofbrau on the beer shelf.

But for most visitors to Elsie's Gourmet Deli on Telegraph Road, the language takes center stage. This isn't just a place to buy smoked bratwurst and sauerkraut. It's a place to experience a culture, even if it is only for a brief moment at the checkout line.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The clerks, most native Germans who married American soldiers at the end of World War II, speak their native tongue to each other and many of the customers.

"The only person I talk English to is my boss," said Jenny Eckert, who started working at the store and restaurant in 1973. "My daughter, my husband, my friends -- they all talk German."

And that's just the way Jim Reynolds, a Crofton resident who bought the deli two years ago, likes it -- even if he is of Irish descent.

"Look at my freight," he said. "Most of the labels are in German."

Elsie's is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and Mr. Reynolds hopes to hold a beer and wine tasting event to mark the occasion.

"We have a very loyal following," he said, noting that people from as far away as Houston place food orders by mail. "I see the same faces every Saturday. I have people who call and say they can't make it in until 2 p.m. and could I please hide some bread for them."

Founders Edward and Inge Boyce opened the deli in 1968 and named it after Mrs. Boyce's daughter, Elsie. Mr. Boyce, who met his wife in Germany after World War II, was stationed at Fort Meade.

Mrs. Boyce found many German Army wives at Fort Meade, and hired some to work in the deli, which back then was one small building that served both as a meat store and luncheonette.

"I still remember the little grill," said Ms. Eckert, a native of Prussia. "It was a nice beginning. We helped bring this place up."

Over the years, the business grew to what is now Elsie's Plaza, a luncheonette and separate deli, located across the parking lot. Two years ago, the Boyces retired, moved to Tennessee and sold the operation to Mr. Reynolds, who was working in the construction division of Maryland National Bank.

Mr. Reynolds said while the store isn't well known outside the German community, that community includes virtually all of the mid-Atlantic coast, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.

The Elsie name is even known in Germany, in part because members of the Boyce family still reside there. As a result, German visitors often stop by Odenton to stock up on some treats from home.

Mr. Reynolds boasts a large German beer selection, as well as homemade bread and sausages, plus a wide variety of cheeses, chocolates, cookies and even foreign toiletries and magazines, like Der Spiegel -- essentially a German Time.

Lunch hour is sometimes standing room only at the restaurant, which is open until 3 p.m.

Besides an assortment of American dishes, diners can indulge in such traditional German fare as bratwurst, weisswurst or knackwurst, complete with a turnover and German potato salad.

"We are kind of tucked away here," Mr. Reynolds said. "We're not out on the street with a neon sign saying, 'Here we are.' I like to say this is a hidden little secret."

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