Heights History: 1940s’ Mammy’s Pantry, 122 Montague Street

Long before there was a Housing Works Thrift Shop or a Fish’s Eddy—or for that matter, a Brooklyn Heights Promenade—122 Montague Street was the location of beloved Southern-style restaurant Mammy’s Pantry. In the 1940s, the eatery served up a lunch and dinner menu of such goodies as Maryland Crab Cakes, Southern Fried Chicken, Shrimps Creole and Chesapeake Bay Oysters. For desert, one could order homemade cakes and pies, Mammy’s Pastries, Bittersweet Chocolates, Jams & Jellies or its renowned Cobbler. Wash it all down with generous juleps, swizzlers, fizzes, wine or cocktails from the bar.

Mammy’s, which endured at least from 1941 to 1947, was owned by “Mrs. Christine Heinemann, a grand cook from Virginia,” according to a column in November 1944 from Gourmet magazine “Food Flashes” columnist Clementine Paddleford. Its manager was a Brooklyn Heights resident, Ruth Wagner. Paddleford called Mammy’s “one of the city’s beloved of the home-style restaurants.”

An ad in the January 17, 1941 Brooklyn Eagle, promotes Mammy’s as “a delightful place to enjoy a meal. Dine in the Brooklyn Heights Room or the more formal Old Dominion Room.” Sunday dinner was served from 12:30 to 8 p.m., for 70 cents to 95 cents. Virginia breakfast was available Sunday mornings for 50 cents.

The precious two-fold linen postcard for Mammy’s Pantry also reveals a lot about the eatery, including air conditioning, music by MUSAK and its telephone exchange: MAin 4-4446 and 4-9365. It also boasts an illustration of “Mammy” that would be anything but politically correct today, although at the time it represented Southern hospitality and cuisine.

A handy color map of the neighborhood, with “a chart to find your way around,” offers historical markers of Brooklyn Heights, including: “Here was the Ferry to Wall Street,” “Blare Edwin Booth stayed,” “Tom Paine’s house” and “Here Beecher auctioned Sarah the Negro slave.” The map also reveals a pre-Cadman Plaza Park and pre-Promenade Heights (the latter would be dedicated in 1950).

Mammy’s was apparently more than an eatery enjoyed by Brooklyn Heights locals. In Paddleford’s Gourmet column in November 1944 , she wrote about World War II’s rationing of bread ingredients, and welcomed the return to Mammy’s menu of “Brooklyn’s famous orange bread, a war casualty for months.”

Paddleford said, “It’s a bread dark as fruit cake. It has an orange peel tang for the palate, made as it is with the whole oranges (minus their seeds) put through the food chopper. Raisins are added to the pulp, and pecans coarsely cut. White flour goes in, whole eggs and seasonings. The oranges are shipped direct from a Florida grove, the pecans come from a grower in Georgia, and the baking is supervised by Mrs. Heinemann. But the recipe is Northern, from a farm woman in upstate New York. The little 35-cent loaf will cut 10 to 12 slices, depending entirely on the sharpness of the knife. The bread needs only the thinnest streak of butter to be the last word with tea. Or use it with cream cheese. It is as fragrant as a pomander, the flavor truly orange.” She adds that “the women who shop after luncheon at (Mammy’s) retail bread case say, ‘Good to see the bread back again.’”

Likewise, in July 1943, Paddleford referred to New York “dining rooms” offering “field-to-table sweet corn steaming hot from the pot,” which included Schrafft’s Restaurants; The White Turkey Town Houses, 220 Madison Avenue and 1 University Place; The Skipper Restaurant, 17 East 48th Street; Mammy’s Pantry, 122 Montague Street, Brooklyn; Abraham & Straus Restaurant, Brooklyn; and Bamberger’s in Newark. She notes that Skipper, Mammy’s Pantry and Bamberger’s also sell the corn “to the carry-home trade.”

Meanwhile, the building at 122 Montague Street was constructed in 1900, according to various city records, stands five stories tall, and includes three residential rentals, as it has throughout much of its history. In 1976, according to the Montague Street Revitalization plan, it housed Piccadeli Restaurant, which offered table service, a bar and take out. From that point, it is unclear what occupied the space until around 2007, with the short-lived Fish’s Eddy and its current tenant Housing Works. Various websites refer to The Montage Street News and Montague Street Saloon at 122 Montague Street, but seem uncertain.

For sure, there are numerous long-time residents of Brooklyn Heights who have their own memories of Mammy’s Pantry. Please… serve ’em up!

(Photos: Online archives/Current: Chuck Taylor)

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  • Andrew Porter

    This was covered extensively on Brownstoner.com in February:


  • http://chucktaylorblog.blogspot.com/ Chuck Taylor

    APorter… who’d a thunk it? looks like mammy’s is trendy! it does appear the brownstoner post coincides with much of what i researched… although if i may say (uh, bluster), BHB offers a deeper read… i.e. brooklyn eagle ad, matchbook covers, piccadeli, history of the building and historical relevance. just sayin’…

    i was in fish’s eddy in union square last week and missing the one on montague and decided to delve into the history of the location… and thus, mammy’s… cheers & thanks for reading.

  • Lenbee

    I compared both posts. Without a doubt, the BHB story is bona fide journalism, whereas the Brownstoner piece is colloquial at best.
    BHB nailed it, as always. Great read Chuck! Thanks for your in-depth research.

  • KT

    I lived at 122 Montague for about 5yrs, maybe around 2001. The fortune teller lady moved in while I was living in the building, we never did figure out what her “business” was a front for. I worked at home for a few years and never saw more than 2 or 3 people a week go in there….

  • Flashlight Worthy

    Before Housing Works was Fishs Eddy. Before that a short-lived magazine store. Before that a delicious bar/restaurant called The Montague Street Saloon. Their hamburger was on a toasted English muffin and was great. Their chef also did a seafood stew as a special that was worthy of any restaurant in town.

  • philica

    Mmmm they need to bring a place like THAT back to the ‘hood!

  • philica

    @Flashlight worthy: I remember the Montague Street Saloon. I liked their Fish n Chips! I remember sitting outside too.. probably before they were stricter about “sidewalk cafes”. It was a great location for the saloon.

  • Joe From Grace

    wonderful post and much appreciated.

  • AEB

    The “takeaway” is that once-upon-a-time, small, personal restaurants operated in BH (and elsewhere) for which someone actually cooked home-style specialties.

    Non-corporate. Not pseudo-ethnic. Not trendy, or striving-to-be. Just…food.

  • Sheila

    Thanks so much for this remembrance! My mom took me here when I was a wee girl. I had a little Mammy doll which I treasured For a long time.

  • Nancy

    Damn I miss that Montague St Saloon. they had a bottomless champagne Sunday Brunch with a great bagel and lox. Them days is gone

  • GHB

    My little Mammy,
    I’d walk a million miles
    For one of your smiles”
    I guess the PC police would put an end to that!

  • Jazz

    Who cares if Brownstoner covered this? They are a bunch of corporate stooges masquerading as local bloggers. Just look at their site it’s loaded with carpetbaggers and real estate developer wannabees. Fake, phonies and frauds read that virtual rag.

  • Fritz

    Think I remember Picadelli. Better use than Housing Works or Fishes’ Eddie. Not enough food places in Montague, and Picadelli (as I remember) had a bar.

  • Danno

    Montague Street Saloon was there in 1985.

  • Gerry

    Eric Gross was teh woner of Montague Street Saloon and I was there the night of 9/11 Eric did his best to stay open running out of everything due to no deliveries the world was upside down and I found refuge at the Montague Street Saloon.