Mushroom Barley Soup on Sunday by
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Prompted By Comfort Food

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On Sunday nights in Detroit, it was good Jewish deli food for our family. Darby’s was the destination, either eat-in or take-out. Built by Sam Boesky (whose brother Ivan was the disgraced financier of the insider trading scandal of the mid-1980s), it could hold 375 people and served 5,000 hungry people daily.

Darby’s in Detroit

My parents and brother got sandwiches with pickles and coleslaw, but I had to have mushroom barley soup (the broth was darker than in the Featured photo). The taste was something else, beyond delicious, and the soft barley made it hearty, filling me completely. It satisfied some longing deep inside me. I frequently couldn’t even finish the large portion.

Once we moved out of Detroit to the suburbs, our Sunday night habit was forsaken and I never tasted that deliciousness again. I read that Darby’s burnt down in 1968.

We do not have great delis in the Boston area, so I haven’t found a comparable soup here. We used to visit friends who had a home outside of Palm Springs. Dan would play golf with Roger (now, sadly, deceased). There are two locations of Sherman’s in Palm Springs, which is a good Jewish deli and they serve mushroom barley soup, much to my delight. I would often order it there, even though it was warm weather. To my mind, it wasn’t as good as Darby’s, but it satisfied the inner child in me. Our friends’ house in La Quinta is now sold, so no more occasions to travel to Palm Springs, or visit Sherman’s.

Sherman’s in Palm Springs


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    A perfectly yummy story, Betsy! And soup is just about the quintessential comfort food — especially for a Sunday night. That photo of the soup looks delicious, even if it doesn’t quite capture the darkness of the broth. And how did you ever find a copy of the Darby’s ad?

    Incidentally, have you been to Zaftig’s (in Brookline in Natick)? It’s quite good — and a great name. Or wander into Connecticut and try Rein’s, on I-84 just north of Hartford. And, by pleasant coincidence, we were taken to Sherman’s in Palm Springs by my cousin and his just-deceased wife, who have a winter place out there, about six years ago. It was the real deal.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree, John. Soup is a wonderful comfort food. I googled Darby’s to get the photo and history. Yes, we’ve been to Zaftig’s in Brookline many times; no mushroom barley though. We even used to go to its predecessor Jack and Marian’s, which was more authentic, but I still don’t remember my soup on the menu. Glad that you got out to Sherman’s. It IS the real deal.

      • John Shutkin says:

        I thought the Brookline Zaftig’s was where Jack and Marian’s used to be. We went there in college a good deal, even after Jack divorced Marian and married Val (but kept the name). The rumor among us guys was that that was where lonely — read horny — girls would go to drown their sorrows in huge desserts, so that’s why we went there, too. Very good deli, but we could get that back in Cambridge at Elsie’s.

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          You are correct. Zaftig’s is the same spot where Jack and Marian’s (who was replaced in person, if not name, by Val) used to be. Can’t verify the lonely girls comment. I didn’t go there at that point. Only after marriage, to a man whose family grew up in Brookline (and grandparents lived close by). And I, too, loved Elsie’s and would make a special trip there just for the potato salad.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Of course, I’m familiar with Darby’s, but the best mushroom barley soup ever was my mother-in-law’s. Someone in the family still has the recipe but claims there are hard-to-find ingredients. Still, I’m tempted to try it this winter. John’s comments about Zaftig’s are a running joke for us. My son lived in Cambridge, Brookline, and then Newton, and we tried to go there several times but never got in because the lines were too long. Sadly, all of the good deli restaurants near us closed, even before the pandemic.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I bet your mother-in-law’s soup was amazing, Laurie. Tell me if you do make it someday, so I can enjoy it vicariously. Zaftig’s used to be hugely popular, but the last few times we went (before the pandemic), we had no problem getting in. Perhaps your family will try it again the next time you come for a visit. Sad to hear about the closure of delis in Evanston, but that’s true in NYC too. I think people just don’t want such fattening food any longer.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    Good Jewish deli is a delight! NY city and Chicago are blessed in this regard.

    Funny how the mind works. I was unaware that mushrooms are kosher. Obviously Darby’s would not have served it otherwise, but I was curious nonetheless, so I did *deep* (first hit was!) internet research.

    The surprising thing to me was that, thousands of years ago, the ancient Hebrews knew that mushrooms are not plants, but are saprophytes, and adjusted the proper prayer accordingly!

  4. If you’re ever in Highland Park, NJ, try the mushroom barley soup at Glatt 27 on Raritan Avenue (a store, not a restaurant). My father-in-law loved it and so did I; only you could determine if it approached the standard of Darby’s.
    You captured me from the opening lines (and even before that with the deeply immersive picture of the soup) about the ambiance and the food at Darby’s and even the interesting side reference to Ivan Boesky.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I’m also a fan of soup, and barley in soup. We have pretty much been living on soup all winter, made with homemade stock and lasting multiple meals. Not the mushroom barley of your youth, but still comforting. BTW, hope you stayed warm through the recent snowstorm and power outages.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I approve of all kinds of soup with barley, Khati. I enjoy it too. These days, I can find beef barley soup, if not my beloved mushroom barley. It’s still good. And yes, I survived fine (though yesterday in all the driving rain, the ceiling in the den right above our computer leaked, ruining the keyboard; I’m typing on an old clunky one at the moment. We’ll see how long this lasts). We have a full house generator tied into our natural gas line, so we’d be fine even with a power outage.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Betsy, and that picture of the soup is making my mouth water! I do love both mushrooms and barley, so I’m sure they would be great together! Your discussion with John about Jack & Marian’s brings back my own memory of that wonderful restaurant, too long for a comment here.

  7. Marian says:

    Awesome soup, Betsy, I can see why you loved it. Alas, so many delis are closing, and in northern California it’s challenging to get any old-school deli food. Thanks for the Sherman’s tip, because Dick has relatives near Palm Springs, so if we ever get there …

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It is true, Mare. We are losing delis at a fast clip. Don’t know no one wants to eat food laden with fat any longer (that was sarcasm). But we grew up on it and loved, right. And now you know about Sherman’s!

  8. Thanx Betsy, a meal at a good Jewish deli is always a comfort, and mushroom and barley soup happened to have been my father’s favorite.

    It’s a heartbreak to see so many delis closing in New York over the past few years, even pre-Covid. If we get go Palm Springs some day I hope to try Sherman’s!

  9. Your story piqued my taste buds, Betsy, and I’m happy to report that we have several delis not far from here that serve mushroom barley soup—Uncle Bernie’s in Encino, Brent’s in Westlake Village, Factor’s in West L.A., Nate ‘n Al’s in Beverly Hills, all long-time favorites. (Alas, Izzy’s Deli in Santa Monica, which my late husband Ken co-owned) also has it on their menu but is now closed due to the pandemic.

    My mouth is now watering!

  10. The mushroom barley soup at Darby’s sounds delicious, as does the Darby’s experience generally (375 capacity is not chopped liver). I am sad that Darby’s is departed, but it is a difficult new world for traditional delis, even when they don’t burn down. I grew up in Brookline too, and remember fondly the haute glitz of Jack and Marion’s (and also have fond college memories of Elsie’s, and it’s famous Roast Beef Special and Turkey Deluxe, although I tended to hang down the block at Tommy’s, which had hot pin ball machines, and as I recall through the dim prism of time some of those girls whom John Shutkin heard might be passing lonely nights at Jack and Marion’s). In a good deli I am not able to turn my back on the corned beef, no matter how fabulous the mushroom barley soup might be. My current go-to deli in the Boston burbs when I am in great need of a corned beef fix, is Barry’s in Waban (oy, such a price), or Mamaleh’s on Beacon Street (their whitefish salad on a bagel 🥯 is transportative). I know nothing about Detroit, except for your vivid descriptions of it back in the day, and except for the Red Sox/tigers weekend series I did a couple of years ago pre COVID (I’m still looking for downtown Detroit); we were directed to a place famous for its Coney Island Hotdogs (huh?).

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think many delis from our youth are gone now, Jon. My husband and I also frequent Barry’s in Waban Square. He grew up a few blocks from it. Before COVID, we used to go to the Kendall Square Cinema, then grab a bite around the corner at that Mamaleh’s. We haven’t been to the new one in Brookline, since it opened during the pandemic and we still aren’t eating out much.

      I don’t get back to Detroit much and never remember feasting on Coney Islands. If you want a story on those, read John Zussman’s “A Coney Island of the Soul” from December 14, 2015.

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