The Suburban House restaurant — a culinary touchstone for generations of local lovers of delicatessen cuisine for nearly eight decades — recently closed its doors at its 1700 Reisterstown Road location of seven years. A simple, hand-written “Closed” sign is posted on the eatery’s front door.
Mark Horowitz, the Pikesville deli’s owner, confirmed that the restaurant closed on Dec. 22 but said he could not discuss the matter until first speaking with legal counsel.
“I closed it under circumstances I can’t currently discuss,” he said, while emphasizing that business at Suburban House was still “good.”
Jessica Normington, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, said she was “speechless” by the news of Suburban House’s closing.
“I don’t know what to say. It was an iconic place that everyone knew and went to,” she said. “This is a sad day in Pikesville history. I guess [the Suburban House] just ran its course and now it’s time for something else to take its place. I know that Mark worked really hard over there to keep it afloat. It’s very sad.”
The restaurant’s storied longtime location in the 900 block of Reisterstown Road was closed due to an electrical fire at the property in 2009.
The restaurant was known for its “folksy” atmosphere and tasty cuisine — including matzoh ball soup, lean corned beef, chicken in a pot, coddies, lox omelets, French toast, signature sandwiches and hearty breakfasts — as well as its placemats featuring a tongue-in-cheek Yiddish food glossary.
“I remember going to S&H all the time growing up. My grandparents took us,” recalled Rachel Ellis, a Baltimore native who now lives in St. Louis and blogged about the restaurant in 2010 while serving as a Jewish Museum of Maryland intern.
“It certainly was a Pikesville institution. As a kid, I distinctly remember not getting the humor of the Yiddish glossary placemats and having family members try to explain it to me,” she said. “It was the kind of place with handwritten checks where you pay at the register, just like Fields [a Pikesville pharmacy/store/restaurant that went out of business in 2012 after 120 years]. My family always sat in Mitzu’s section – Mitzu was a friendly, highly capable waitress who served [the Suburban House] for two decades. …
“I was excited when they reopened in their new location in 2010,” Ellis said, “but it never felt the same.”
A ‘Noisy, Cheerful, Nice Place’
In 1939, Henry H. Cohen and his brother, Sidney, founded the S&H Restaurant — in honor of the initials of their first names — in the 1400 block of E. Baltimore Street. Twenty-five years later, with the northwestern migration of Baltimore Jewry, they bought the Mike & Jules restaurant at 911 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.
S&H became known as the Suburban House — reportedly because of its proximity to the Suburban Club — but many locals nonetheless continued calling the restaurant S&H. The eatery became a popular family destination, particularly on Sunday mornings, and countless organizational and political gatherings were held there, as well as milestone and life cycle receptions.
In addition, patrons often dropped by the Suburban House on Saturday evenings after catching shows at the long-defunct Painters Mills Music Fair venue in Owings Mills or movies at the nearby Mini-Flick or Pikes theaters.
Among the visiting celebrities known to have dropped by the Suburban House during its heyday were Liberace, Gene Kelly, Angela Lansbury and Peggy Cass, as well as many local and statewide politicians such as Gov. Marvin Mandel and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. “Mickey” Steinberg.
“It was a family restaurant,” Doris Hankin Cohen, Henry Cohen’s wife of 62 years, told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. “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.”
In 1979, a Sun reviewer described the restaurant 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 1985, the Cohens sold the restaurant to Horowitz and his former business partner, Joseph Stowe. For more than a quarter-century, Stowe and Horowitz operated the restaurant, which was known for its amusing and kitschy artwork on the walls, down-to earth and schmoozy atmosphere, friendly waiting staff, mahjong tournaments and large portions.
“The ambiance is unrepentantly 1960, or earlier,” local history author Gilbert Sandler wrote of the Suburban House in his 2012 book, “Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore” (The History Press). “Judging from at least some of the people there on any given Sunday morning, it’s a gang that rode the last No. 33 streetcar up Park Heights, then went to the show at the old Forest Theatre on a Saturday afternoon, and jitterbugged at the last Jewish high school fraternity dance at City College. … If nothing at Suburban House is as good as it was in the delis of their growing up, what are all these overweight fressers [big eaters] doing there on Sunday mornings?”
In a 1993 homage to the eatery, veteran Sun scribe Jacques Kelly pondered, “Is the Suburban House really the social center of Pikesville? Some will dispute that, but just look at a busy Sunday. The tables will change seven times and about 1,500 meals will be served. Grandfather and grandmother will be at the head, with assorted generations spread about. … The success of the place is its delicatessen-restaurant setting. Most customers park in a rear lot and enter the building through a passage that faces a complete Jewish delicatessen. Anyone who can not emerge with a watering mouth has no use for lox, bagels, cream cheese, corned beef, chicken salad, pickles, borscht and bread pudding.”
A three-alarm fire precipitated the Suburban House’s move in July of 2010 — after a year’s hiatus — to a space in the Pomona Square shopping center, formerly the site of a Fuddruckers restaurant.
A Statement On Delis Today?
Dr. Deborah R. Weiner, a local Jewish historian who writes frequently for Jmore, said she was surprised by the closing of the Suburban House. She said she ate there recently with her father, a Chicago transplant and deli aficionado.
“It’s sad, because there aren’t that many sit-down places like that still around,” Weiner said. “Suburban House has been around for a long time and stands for that whole era of suburbanization and making a new Jewish life in the suburbs. It was just one of those post-war, kosher-style restaurants that allowed Jews to eat ethnic foods that they loved while they no longer lived in densely-populated immigrant neighborhoods. It was the second- and third-generation way of being Jewish in America. I’m not sure Baltimore has any place like that anymore.”
Ted Merwin, executive director of Reservoir Hill’s Beth Am Synagogue and author of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award-winner “Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli” (NYU Press), said he was not stunned by the Suburban House’s demise.
“Jewish delis are closing all across the country,” he said. “One of the most iconic ones, the Carnegie Deli in New York, closed at the end of last December [in 2016]. In Baltimore, Lenny’s [Deli] closed its Lombard Street location earlier this year. There is a declining market for non-kosher delis since the type of food that they serve can be found in lots of different places nowadays, such as diners and cafes.
“Still,” Merwin said, “it’s terribly sad when a place like Suburban House, which was the Sunday brunch place of choice for three generations of Baltimore Jews, bites the dust.”