Moe Wilensky’s Light Lunch – a Spartan corner diner with institutional green walls and an elbow-worn wood-grain pattern Formica counter – might depress a patron in search of fun. Wilensky’s has no sense of humor. It has rules. Pay when served. No tipping allowed. Sandwiches will not be cut in half. The Wilensky “special” is available garnished one and only one way, with mustard. Because all specials are the same, yours will be slapped down on the counter in seconds. It comes on wax paper; a plate would be too decorous. It is thin slices of all-beef baloney and salami on a roll (a slice of cheese is the one option), the whole package cooked in a press similar to the plancha used to make a Cuban sandwich. The press squeezes it flat and the roll becomes two crisp tiles around the meat. Served steaming-warm, its flavor teases the same pleasure zone as a kosher hot dog, but with the added crunch of the toasted roll. Soda fountain Cokes are available with cherry flavoring; the beverage menu also includes soda frappes, known in New York as egg creams.
Unlike the city’s delis, which seem always to be boisterous, and its espresso shops, which fairly buzz with caffeinated joy, Wilensky’s is museum-quiet and the staff can be more curt than courteous. Opposite the nine-stool counter where diners eat side-by-side are shelves of beat-up paperback books. “For sale?” we ask the widow Wilensky, who stands with her arms folded to express annoyance at our curiosity.
“Half the cover price,” she answers wearily.
On top of the case that holds the books is another bargain: a pair of P205x55Rx16 B.F. Goodrich snow tires that look good as new. “What else do you have for sale?” we inquire.
We have pressed our luck too far. Madame turns her back and attends to business. We’ve paid, we’ve eaten, our seats at the counter have been occupied by others. Our time is up.