Monday, November 30, 2009

This is an excerpt from my book:
"Just Hangin' Out, Ma." If you would like more information on this book click on cover of book on the right of this page. Thanks.

Lawrence - My Hometown

Bishop’s Restaurant

By Richard E. Noble

Bishop’s Restaurant was considered a landmark by anyone from my generation of Lawencians. People came from all over and drove for miles to eat at Bishop’s. Today in the “business” that type restaurant is called a “destination restaurant.”
I can remember sitting up on the wall at the Howard Playstead with a bunch of my buddies and having a fancy new model Caddy or Lincoln pull up and ask us for directions to Bishop’s. We were always quite thrilled and proud to see fancy people coming to our humble tenement neighborhood to eat at one of our ethnic restaurants.
The original Bishop’s was located in the Syrian district. I say Syrian. I know many were Lebanese’s and I’m sure there were some from other Arab nations as well. They were all Christians as far as I know. I don’t remember any Mosques in the old neighborhood.
All the immigrants who came to Lawrence settled in a neighborhood where they felt comfortable. The houses were all similar throughout the city but one section would be mostly Italian, another Syrian, another Polish, and so on. The second generation would get more adventuresome and move here and there about the city. But the old sections would keep their ethic charm and solidarity, and good food.
The Syrian district spread around the Immaculate Conception Church. I don’t recall all the street names that comprised the district but let me guess at a few - Elm St., White St., Maple St., Chestnut St., Auburn St., and I think there was even a Lebanon St. Bishop’s was in that area.
Bishop’s didn’t look like much from the outside but it was fancy on the inside. The booths were leather and the floors were carpeted. They had waiters rather than waitresses. This added an air of sophistication. I don’t remember any other restaurant that had waiters. But then I was not a big restaurant aficionado in those days.
Lawrence was not a pretty neighborhood. I can imagine those Caddy and Lincoln people peeking out the door every five minutes to make sure their cars were still out there on the street. In my day a car might have been “borrowed” for a joy ride but never as part of a for-profit business enterprise.
The kitchen at Bishop’s was filled with little, old, Syrian ladies. I know this because I delivered food stuffs to Bishop’s new store in my truck driver days. The menu featured all sorts of Syrian specialties – stuffed grape leaves and stuffed squash were two popular items that I remember. Hummus and Tahini was a unique dip that I always ordered. The Hummus was made from chic peas and the Tahini from ground roasted sesame seeds. I heard that the neighborhood Syrian women supplied the fresh grape leaves also. There was nothing like it.
I would get the Hummus and Tahini dip and a platter of stuffed grape leaves as an appetizer. I would squeeze fresh lemon wedges over the grape leaves then wrap the grape leaves in the fresh, still warm Syrian bread and dunk it into the Hummus dip. Oh yes! Was that ever good.
My main choice was always Lamb on a stick on a bed of rice pilaf. Bishop’s was famous for its Shish Kabob but they also served steaks and Maine Lobsters and other conventional favorites.
And who could forget their heaping platter of homemade French fries. They had a giant potato peeler in the back at their new store, owned by brothers, Joey and Abe Bashara. The original store on White St. was started by mom who was known as “the Chief” and her three sons. Dad had died when the boys were young. Charlie, brother to Joey and Abe, died later on. The potato peeling machine had a big rough, round glob sized stone in its center. The stone spun around and scrapped all the skin off the potatoes. I never saw another one like it. The French fries were not straight and crispy. They were long, limp and potato tasting. I’ll bet they were fried in lard too.
There was a Syrian bakery next to the old Bishop’s that supplied their fresh Syrian flat bread. It was just around the corner. And the bread was made fresh daily.
Bishop’s was a unique restaurant in a rather “difficult” neighborhood but their reputation swelled. And one day Joey and Abe Bashara built a palace of a restaurant right in the heart of town. It was at the far end of Hampshire St., a block or so up from Essex St. For Lawrence it was like the Taj Mahal. It had it all – cocktail lounge, huge, spacious, dining room, plush carpets, beautiful booths and tables. It was a wonderful, luxurious dining experience. For years it had a waiting line and reservations. I remember signing in and then going to the lounge. The lounge often had entertainment. This was all mighty fancy for old Lawrence but yet not expensive.
When I got word a few years back that it had closed its doors, I couldn’t believe it. It was certainly the end of an era for Lawrence. Who could imagine a Lawrence without a Bishop’s restaurant?
But Lawrence is without a lot of things these days. I suppose that is part of the reason for these columns. It seems such a shame to just let everything disappear. I suppose that one day nobody will know that such a thing as a Bishop’s restaurant ever existed. The same goes for a Richard E. Noble also, I’m sorry to say.

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