Henry H. Cohen, 87, proprietor of popular Pikesville restaurant

February 26, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Henry H. Cohen, who greeted generations of faithfully returning customers at his popular Pikesville restaurant, died Saturday of a cerebral hemorrhage at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Pikesville resident was 87.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Park Heights Terrace, Mr. Cohen was in his senior year at City College when his parents asked him to leave school and help support the family during the Depression. Nonetheless, he later earned his high school equivalency diploma and took classes at the University of Baltimore.

In 1939, he and his brother, Sydney, who survives him, founded S&H Restaurant in the 1400 block of E. Baltimore St. The business flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, but as their customers moved out of the East Baltimore neighborhood, the Cohen brothers searched for a new location.

In 1964, they bought the Mike & Jules restaurant on Reisterstown Road in the heart of Pikesville. To retain a trace of their original name, S&H became Suburban House, drawing from the adjoining property, the Suburban Club.

"It was a family restaurant," said Mr. Cohen's wife of 62 years, the former Doris Hankin. "We knew generations of our customers as they moved from East Baltimore Street to Pikesville. We had children, parents and grandparents. Their joys were our joys. Their sorrows were our sorrows."

Family members said Mr. Cohen served traditional dishes, such as chicken-in-a-pot and thick soups - mushroom and barley and yellow split pea. He also created rich cheesecakes, baked on a bottom layer of devil's food cake, that were top sellers over the years. He also traded jokes with his customers.

A 1979 food review in The Sun described Suburban House as a "noisy, cheerful, nice place ... probably more Eastern European than anything else. Here are to be found gefilte fish, knockwurst, chopped liver, herring in cream, blintzes, corned beef and lots of similar goodies."

In the summer, when performers and Broadway-style shows appeared at the old Painters Mill Music Fair, Mr. Cohen greeted Liberace, Molly Picon, Jan Peerce and other performers whose photographs he displayed.

"He was a true deli man," said Marty Lev, owner of the Edmart delicatessen in Pikesville. "His personality was so even-keel. He was a wonderful family man, too, a characteristic that appealed to his customers."

Another 1979 Sun article said Mr. Cohen's business was "full of crowds of people downing huge sandwiches and shoveling in the cheesecake, all of them enjoying themselves enormously and noisily."

"In its heyday, it was a real destination for lovers of Jewish foods and homestyle cooking," said Craig Hankin, a nephew who lives in Cockeysville. "It was in a league of its own. A lot of people still remember the hot roast brisket sandwich."

"If you visited his home, you saw books all over the place. On tables, chairs, piled high on the floor," Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman of Chizuk Aumno Congregation said in his eulogy. "Imagine, a house of books and the owner having read all of them - cover to cover."

Mr. Cohen and his brother, also a Pikesville resident, retired in 1982 and sold their business, which remains open under the same name on Reisterstown Road.

Services were held Monday in Pikesville.

Other survivors include a daughter, Phylis Barbara Cohen of Minneapolis; and three grandchildren. Another daughter, Ruth Annette Cohen, died last year.

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