Marchione’s, Portnow’s and Charlotte Russe

I believe that I was somehow Manchurian Candidated by the Portnow Truss sign on Grand Street. It flashed on an off in my eyes for about 6 years when I was small. My first experience living in Grandma’s house was in the big bedroom in the middle of the Apartment that faced both Clinton and Grand Streets. The Portnow Truss sign ( and I did not know what a truss was until the Yiddish work Kileh was explained to me) was of a kind of organgish red that burnt into your retinas from three blocks away. Somehow, as I was growing up, I felt that I was in need of a truss, even when I found out what it was. I was given the idea that athletes wore trusses so that they would not get a hernia ( whatever that was).
There was no explanation for the Portnow Trusses, other than some brief mention of it when we all went to Coney Island and got beet red. It was then, amidst the smell of Noxsema that the sign had its biggest affect. It was downright annoying. On the hottest evenings in the Summer it would be laughing at us with its glaring luminescent, as if to say, “ See, if you had bought a truss, none of this would have happened.”
The other bright lights along Grand Street and really much closer, was the divine Marchione’s ice cream emporium. I was not aware of any other foods that might be sold there, but its ice cream was world famous ( or so I thought then). Walking into Marchione’s allowed this small boy to enter a world of frappes, black and white ice cream sodas, two cent plains, lime rickeys, vanilla malts and the unbelievable banana splits.
The lights were very bright in the ice cream parlor, and that it what it was- leather seats, small sextaganol tiles in white with black patterns, wire chairs and shiney tables, mirrors and the smell that dreams are made of. Each concoction was a work of art. The shakes were placed in a stainless steel container and placed under the Hamilton mixer. One could see the white liquid go back and forth in a wave fashion smelling brilliantly of malt. There are very few places where malteds are made outside of New York City. I have even tried to make one at home with little success. Something about the milk, the ice cream and malt in some happy combination made those malteds the stuff of dreams, or Willy Wonka.
Going to Manhattan on the subway was always a treat for this little boy of 8 to 10 years of age. For in no place else that I knew was there the cake and whipped cream delight of a Charlotte Russe. Even now, as I look at this page, I realize that the words mean a Russian Charlotte ( a queen perhaps, a delight at some foreign court in the 17th or 18th century???). The container was a stiff sort of paper or white cardboard. The kind that you used to get in new men’s shirts. It was scalloped, turned on itself into a circle with no bottom. In it was a vanilla or yellow cake of some short, piled high with whipped cream and topped with a cherry. I believe that it cost 10 cents and was only found in candy stores close to the subway. I have never seen it in any other place since then. It disappeared from my view and probably from the view of the rest of the world. If it does exist anywhere right now, it is probably delighting children whose mouths are now heaped full of cake and whipped cream.

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5 thoughts on “Marchione’s, Portnow’s and Charlotte Russe

  1. I found this page Googling Portnow Trusses on Grand Street. That was my grandfather’s shop. Do you recall what year(s) you are referring to? And yes, I know it was a very big and very bright sign. It did do what grandpa intended it to do, grab attention.
    Looking forward to your reply.
    Aline Portnow Hoffman

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