Eric Finkelstein and Matt Ross, the owners of Court Street Grocers, have opened the doors of S&P, a restaurant located in the former home of Eisenberg’s, one of Manhattan’s last old-school lunch counters that closed during the pandemic. The reboot has been slowly coming together since last spring, when Finkelstein and Ross shared a photo of a bar stool patched with duct tape that appeared to be taken from inside Eisenberg’s. “Honestly, we didn’t think much about the post,” Ross said ahead of the opening. Fans of the fabled lunch counter apparently did.
Commenters flooded the post with pleas that more or less amounted to, “You hipsters better not change a thing” — not realizing that Eisenberg’s has never been able to stay the same. The lunch counter at 174 Fifth Avenue, near East 22nd Street, has changed hands some five times over the last 94 years. At each turn, the space and menu has undergone subtle changes, the most notorious of which may have occurred under Warren Chiu, the most recent owner who trademarked the Eisenberg’s name and skipped town after opening a location of the restaurant in Midtown West that later closed with 1.5 stars on Yelp.
Finkelstein and Ross, who run a handful of Court Street Grocers sandwich shops across town, are the latest to take the reins. They’re operating under the name S&P, a sandwich shop that predates Eisenberg’s and opened in the space in 1928. “Our ultimate goal is to uncut some of the corners that had been cut in recent years,” Finkelstein says. They retiled the floor, installed booth seating in the back, and widened the kitchen, but the large menu is still filled with eccentricities, while the tuna melt has barely been touched.
S&P has been operating with irregular hours and days of service ahead of its full opening on September 28, but that hasn’t stopped customers from peering through the windows and walking on inside. On a recent weekday ahead of the opening, people filed into the building one after another, most seeming to have no idea what Eisenberg’s was or S&P intends to be, but more attracted to its 40-foot counter and the promise of a Lime Rickey on a summer day. Read on for more about S&P, told through six of its sandwiches.
Tuna melt on rye
Nickname: That sandwich from Eisenberg’s
Slice of rye, American cheese, tuna, American cheese, slice of rye. That’s the order of operations behind Eisenberg’s undeniable star, and Finkelstein isn’t changing much. “The goal was to give people the best version of the sandwich they had before,” he says. He swapped out the Hellmann’s mayo for Duke’s — “It’s a little yolkier, tangier, and saltier,” he says — and mixed it with a combination of oil- and water-packed canned tunas. Loads of newer restaurants, including Court Street Grocers, zhuzh up their tuna salads with chopped herbs, celery, or a hit of acid, but Finkelstein wanted to keep his to two ingredients. “There’s something so nice about a really simple tuna salad that you could make at home,” he says.
Peanut butter with bacon on white
Nickname: That sandwich from Finkelstein’s grandma
Peanut butter, bacon, and white bread: Three ingredients, lots of headaches. Finkelstein was recipe-testing this buzzer beater of a sandwich until the day before S&P opened. “We honestly weren’t sure if we would be able to put it on,” he says. The bacon was too thick, the brand of peanut butter wasn’t right, and he wanted to serve the sandwich on rye bread — the way his grandmother used to make it. Right when hope seemed lost, an iMessage arrived: “We nailed it,” he said over text last week. The team found success with thinner slices of bacon and more of it — “For the crunch,” he says — and went with an inexpensive store-bought PB that’s loaded with oil and sugar. Two slices of toasted white bread were all that were missing on this unlikely sandwich, which at one point was served at Eisenberg’s.
The Jersey Joe
Nickname: That sandwich from New Jersey
Head to north Jersey, and the words “sloppy joe” no longer refer to the heaps of ground meat and tomato sauce found in school cafeterias. “It’s a triple-decker sandwich that’s meant to stay good in the fridge,” Finkelstein says. Roast turkey, corned beef, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing are sandwiched between three thin pieces of rye bread that are cut on a deli slicer. It’s not the first time he and Ross have tried to serve this regional sandwich. It was recipe tested back when Court Street Grocers opened in Williamsburg but never made it to the menu. “It turns out the order of assembly is really important,” he says. “We learned that the Russian dressing should never touch the bread.”
Nickname: That eight-dollar burger
Eisenberg’s famously referred to its burgers as Eisenbergers. It’s a tough act to follow, but Finkelstein and Ross are going for it with this unpretentious take on a diner burger. “We wanted it to be the simplest, diner-iest burger possible,” he says. A quarter-pound patty is chucked on the grill, blanketed with a slice of American cheese, then tossed onto a bun with chopped onions, a pair of pickles, and a squirt of mustard. The sandwich is one of a handful on the menu priced under $10.
Pastrami on rye
Nickname: That pastrami sandwich
The pastrami for this simple sandwich comes from Old World Provisions, a deli in upstate New York that also makes the restaurant’s corned beef. At S&P, it’s slathered with mustard and ground black pepper, before heading into a steam oven each night. It emerges some 14 hours later in time for the lunch counter’s first sandwiches, which come layered with crusty pastrami that’s sliced “thicker than Eisenberg’s but thinner than Katz’s,” according to Finkelstein. The rye is baked twice, once by Anthony & Sons Bakery in New Jersey, where it’s made, then a second time at the restaurant before it’s cut into slices.
Ham and cheese on white
Nickname: That sandwich you could probably make at home
“We realized after photographing the rest of the sandwiches that there was no color,” Finkelstein says. “That was the number one reason we wanted to shoot this one.” He’s joking, but not really: Almost everything on the menu at S&P is brown, yellow, or brown and yellow — and, from experience, the lights that dangle overhead don’t do these sandwiches any favors. It’s exactly how it should be when inheriting a New York institution, Finkelstein says. There are no head-turning dishes designed for social media: Just boiled whole muscle ham and iceberg lettuce. “People could probably make this at home,” he says for the third or fourth time. The fact that they don’t? The team is taking that as an early cue that they got something right.
S&P is operating with limited hours until September 28, at which point the lunch counter will be open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. Closed September 24 to 25.