On a recent Sunday morning I got a text from a friend from college who was in town for a wedding:
We’re going to Woodside at 10 if you want to join us!
It was after 9am. I was at the dog park in sweats. I hadn’t showered yet. There was no way I was getting from Adams Morgan to Silver Spring in time. I told him I couldn’t make it.
That was a mistake.
The next day it was reported that Woodside Deli, the beloved neighborhood Jewish-ish restaurant in Silver Spring, had shuttered its doors after 72 years in business. I’d missed my last chance to eat at one of my favorite restaurants.
Woodside Deli holds a special place in the heart of native Silver Springers like me. Some might wonder why, exactly.
Was it the food? Not really. Everything on the menu could be described as “fine.” I don’t think Tom Sietsema would give it a glowing review. (The Post did write a positive piece about the restaurant nearly 20 years ago, without mention of how the food actually tasted.)
Was it a beautiful space? Not unless you find brownish-whiteish walls last updated in the 1970s (if ever) stylish.
But people didn’t go to Woodside for style and fine dining. People went to Woodside because it felt like home.
Opened in 1947, Woodside Deli rarely, if ever, changed its menu. The aforementioned walls were adorned with kitschy photos of long-ago celebrities, Life Magazine covers, and old Playboy pin-ups and other nude photos (god forbid you were seated near those with your parents).
In an area often criticized for its lack of Jewish delis, and those around often packed with lines out the door on weekends (like Parkway Deli down the road in Silver Spring or Call Your Mother in Park View), Woodside was a breath of fresh air. You could almost always find a seat. Woodside wasn’t a secret, but it often felt like it really was our neighborhood deli. Just for us.
It was the kind of place that felt like it had always been there and would never go away. You would run into neighbors, take your high school date, or get last-minute carry out for someone whose water just broke (which my dad did when my mom went into labor with yours truly in 1990).
Even as locally-owned DC-area restaurants fall like dominoes, replaced by chains or big, national restaurant groups, it seemed like Woodside was the rare spot that would always endure.
When a good friend of mine sent a group text after learning the bad news, one friend quipped, where will all my elderly neighbors eat dinner all week? But he also added:
Will, you should try to claim their photo of your dad with Eric and the astronaut.
And that’s my own personal connection.
Perhaps the biggest reason Woodside Deli’s closure is such a loss for me is deeply personal.
In December 2016, my brother, Eric, committed suicide. His death continues to be tough for me, my family, and our friends.
Woodside was one of his favorite restaurants. And amid the photos of celebrities adorning the restaurant’s walls was a snapshot of astronaut Neil Armstrong, my dad, and my brother. Back in the early 2000s, my dad had stealthily placed the framed photo on Woodside’s wall.
For years, my brother and I had a local claim to fame: his photo was on the wall at the Woodside Deli.
His face appeared alongside the Beatles, Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe.
That photo took on new meaning for my father after my brother’s passing. He knew he could go to Woodside Deli and see my brother’s face.
But in October 2017, I visited with my parents for dinner and was shocked: they had redecorated much of the interior with new photographs. My brother’s photo was gone. It’s difficult to describe the pain I felt watching my father wander through the dining area, desperate to find the photo he hung on the wall more than a decade earlier.
A few days later, I contacted Woodside Deli and told them about my brother, the photograph, and our disappointment. I asked if I could bring the photo back to the restaurant, with a new frame to match the new decor, and they quickly agreed.
My dad was elated.
When we brought in the new photo, my dad chatted with the staff about Neil Armstrong and my brother.
I could tell it was cathartic for him. It was for me too. I thought, Eric will be on the wall at Woodside forever. He might be gone, but he’ll always be right here.
Two months later, on what would have been my brother’s 32nd birthday, my friends and family gathered at Woodside to remember my brother, and, of course, to look at the photograph.
My story is unique, but I’m not alone. I know Woodside Deli was more than just a restaurant to the many people in the area. It was home.
Goodbye, Woodside. I’ll never forget your chocolate chip pancakes, matzo ball soup, or that corner with all the nude photos that I found so utterly embarrassing as a young boy.