by Bill Batson
Hartell’s in Upper Nyack has always been the kind of deli and market where the owner knows your name, and your favorite foods. There has been a neighborhood eatery on the spot for over a century. When Hartell’s closed its doors in 2016, there was a collective sense of mourning. That melancholy lifted in March 2017 when Frank DeNardo was entrusted with the responsibility of reopening the beloved institution.
Upper Nyack historian and neighbor Win Perry marvels at how the corner of North Broadway and Castle Heights Avenue seems to stand frozen in time. “The remarkable thing is that the neighborhood has changed so little, particularly our Van Houten’s Landing – the old downtown part of Upper Nyack – is really very much the way it was when I was a child. What’s now Hartell’s Deli was Gerhart’s Ice Cream Parlor.,” Perry reminisced in an oral history recorded by the Nyack Library.
Louis “Bubby” Hartell opened a venue at this address in the 70s and was famous for Friday fish sandwiches and mac and cheese. Now days, Bubby watches over his legacy from his adjacent liquor store, that shares an interior window with DeNardo’s reboot. And through the glass he observes a community market taking root. (Coming soon: a conversation with Bubby Haretll!)
I first ate at Hartell’s because Nyack’s omnipresent street artist Vinny Raffa told me I had to. “You gotta support Hartell’s,” he implored me. “It’s the grilled heart and soul of Upper Nyack, with a little ketchup,” he told me. “Always has been, always will be.” Vinny has a peculiar poetic panache when promoting the village he loves.
Even though there is a course by the name at colleges across the country, you can’t teach hospitality. In a world where we have all become foodies, the palate might steer some of our spending, but you become a regular in a place where you feel welcome. Just like that proverbial potato chip, I bet you won’t have just one visit at the new Hartell’s.
Nyack Sketch Log spoke with the new Hartell’s Frank DeNardo.
How long have you lived in Upper Nyack?
Did you frequent Hartell’s
Yes I did. I would come in for the bacon wrapped cheese dogs and Mac and cheese.
Is there a lot of pressure being the only eatery in downtown Upper Nyack?
The only pressure is to satisfy my customers. There is such a varying mix of patrons that come in and we always try to satisfy everyones taste. I try to make many healthy dishes while still appealing to the customers that want more comfort food type dishes. You can often find a tofu dish right next to a beef meatloaf
I once told you that someone recommended the salmon and you said “Betsy.” Are you on a favorite food basis with all of your regulars?
I am. We have a good amount of regulars and more times than not we have their egg sandwich and coffee ready as soon as we see them pull up in their car. There are also regulars that will just tell us to make them something that they will like and leave it up to me.
What was your first restaurant job?
As a young teenager I worked as a dishwasher/shelf stocker at a deli in Peekskill NY. I worked there throughout high school and eventually started cooking there as well.
I saw your son behind the counter. Any other DeNardos in the operation?
My boys love to help around the deli. Stocking , drinks, cleaning up and speaking with the customers.
This place used to be Gerhart’s and then Hartell’s, why not DeNardo’s?
During the renovation so many people kept referring to the deli as Hartell’s so I figured “why change it?”
Where did you study the culinary Arts?
The Art Institute of New York City.
What did you like most about your training?
I loved the process of creating dishes with what items were available and on hand. Every Friday at school the chefs would give us a milk crate filled with a variety of vegetables and proteins and we had to make as many dishes as possible with what we were given.
How do you keep ahead of an increasingly health conscious food-literate public?
My family has always eaten fairly healthy. I try to give my kids healthy meals and snacks as well so I’m always reading food magazines, trade papers and cookbooks.
What’s the most popular sandwich?
Our most popular sandwiches are the Italian combo and the hot roast beef on garlic bread with melted Swiss and Russian dressing.
Find any Hartell’s artifacts?
We use the original deli slicers and the same griddle that Bubby cooked countless egg sandwiches on.