Sidney Mandell, owner of a Woodmoor deli, dies at 93

His 'Four by Four' — a hamburger surrounded by fries and onion rings — was crowd-pleaser

March 08, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Sidney "Sid" Mandell, the gregarious former owner of a large, New York-style Woodmoor kosher delicatessen that for decades served up juicy, hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches and was known for its famous "Mandell's Four by Four," died Tuesday in his sleep at his son's Stevenson home.

He was 93.

Mr. Mandell, the son of immigrant parents from Austria and Russia, was raised on Bond Street in East Baltimore.

"They were difficult times and the family, as most immigrants, lived in cramped quarters with bare necessities," said his son, Steve Mandell. "He recalled gas lamps in the early apartments, limited electric service, iceboxes and no radios."

Mr. Mandell attended Talmudical Academy on Aisquith Street, and later Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

He dropped out of high school and went to work for his brother, Joseph Mandell, who was working in Katz's Deli in the 1400 block of E. Baltimore St.

In 1934, his brother bought the business and changed the name of the four-table delicatessen to Mandell's, where the two brothers were joined in its operation by their parents.

The family lived upstairs above the deli that was open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

"My mother did all the cooking," Sidney Mandell said in a 2007 Jewish Times profile. "We did all the rest, including sweeping the floors."

Mr. Mandell said the place became popular with numbers writers and racetrack touts.

"They loved to gather in Mandell's because they loved my stepmother's brisket. The gamblers would winter in Florida, and when they came back in April, they'd flock to Mandell's for 'that brisket you guys serve,' " he said.

His brother sold the place in 1940 and opened another deli at 118 E. Baltimore St., which became a Baltimore version of "New York's Stage Deli - a gathering place for the glitterati of showbiz: actors, band leaders, singers, dancers, comedians, vaudevillians and chorus girls staying at the Emerson Hotel next door and playing the Hippodrome on Eutaw Street," said the newspaper profile.

During World War II, Sidney Mandell enlisted in the Army in 1943 and landed at Omaha Beach 10 days after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.

While in France, he became fluent in French, and, after being discharged at war's end with the rank of sergeant, returned to work in his brother's deli.

Another move came in 1954, when his brother closed the Baltimore Street deli and moved to the Hilltop Shopping Center, where he opened Mandell-Ballow at Reisterstown Road and Rogers Avenue.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. Mandell left his brother and opened Sid Mandell's Restaurant & Deli in the Woodmoor Shopping Center in the 7000 block of Liberty Road.

Besides the 160-seat deli, Mr. Mandell also had an on-site bakery, which prepared the baked goods that he served and sold.

"The place was so popular that people would be standing in line at 1 a.m., and we were open seven days a week," said his son, who worked in the deli with his parents. "They'd come after the movies or parties. The place really became a popular cultural icon with all generations of people."

And the crowds came not only for such traditions as corned beef and hot pastrami sandwiches oozing pungent yellow mustard but also for kishka, lox and bagels, knishes, brisket, bowls of steaming chicken soup and such desserts as chocolate eclair cheesecake and chocolate chip cheesecake.

However, it was Mr. Mandell's "Four by Four," which was a large hamburger in a basket surrounded by heaping piles of golden french fries and perfectly fried, succulent onion rings that was an enduring hit with customers.

"He joked that he sold so much pastrami, corned beef, cheesecake and onion rings that he got an annual thank-you note from the Maryland Society of Cardiologists," his son said.

"Customers would make a good meal out of it," Mr. Mandell told the Jewish Times in the 2007 interview. "We made a good living off of it."

"Sid screamed out orders like an old-time deli man," recalled Allen Hack, a veteran deli man himself, who had worked at Edmart in Pikesville for 20 years.

Ruth Ross recalled going to Sid Mandell's in the 1950s.

"Sid had great stuff and that 'Four by Four' was known everywhere. I guess the hamburger measured 4-by-4 inches. And I've never had onion rings that were any better," Mrs. Ross said. "There is simply nothing to compare them to. I've tried for years to get the recipe, but so far, have been unsuccessful."

Mrs. Ross was also fond of the desserts that were served in the deli.

"I loved the chocolate cream pie and the frozen eclair that was covered in hot fudge sauce," she said.

"It was a fabulous neighborhood place. Kids came after the movies, dances and parties. And when you came in, all the countermen knew you by name," she said. "There really was no other place like it."

With his Jewish customers moving out of the neighborhood, Mr. Mandell made the decision to close the deli and retire in 1980.

In his retirement, Mr. Mandell volunteered at the Red Cross Holocaust Tracing Service.

And because his own education had ended early, he enjoyed reading and traveling. He was an avid classical music fan and attended concerts of the Baltimore Symphony and opera.

"My father was beloved by so many because he was a kind and generous person," his son said. "He was fast to laugh and slow to anger. He created good will wherever he went."

Mr. Mandell was a member of Beth Jacob Congregation.

His wife of 59 years, the former Barbara Rose Cohen, an artist, sculptor and poet, died in 2002.

Services were Thursday.

Also surviving are three granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.

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