Delmonico’s Pioneered the American Restaurant Experience as We Know It


The iconic New York City restaurant opened in 1837, and is still standing today.

By: Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy

Delmonico’s in New York City was the first establishment to use the name “restaurant.” They were the first restaurant to have printed menus. They were the first restaurant to offer a cookbook. They were the first restaurant to serve women sitting without men at their own table (how shocking!)

Delmonico’s was also the first dining establishment in America to price individual dishes à la carte, as was the custom in Paris. Before this, American inns served one price and only one dish–no menu. Everyone was charged the same fixed price whether they ate more or less than other patrons. They were also the first to open (for a while) the Delmonico Hotel, without the standard “room and board” pricing, but charged for room and meals separately.

They were the first restaurant considered to be “fine dining,” attracting celebrities and presidents alike. By 1862, Chef de Cuisine, Charles Ranhofer, created some of the most famous American dishes, such as Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newburg and Chicken A la Keene (yes, not “King”). Ranhofer published his cookbook, “The Epicurean,” in 1894.


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Giovanni and Pietro Delmonico immigrated from from Ticino, Switzerland, their family roots being in the Trentino region of the Italian Alps. The brothers opened their first restaurant in 1827 in a rented pastry shop at 23 William St., selling classically prepared pastries, fine coffee, chocolates, bonbons, wines and liquors, as well as Havana cigars. In 1831, they were joined by their nephew, Lorenzo Delmonico, who was responsible for the wine list and developing its unique menu. In the coming years, Lorenzo learned every aspect of the restaurant business and was the driving force behind its impeccable standards of both product and service.

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The Delmonico Farm and Villa
In 1834, the brothers earmarked $16,000 (worth $500,000 today) from their profits to purchase a 220-acre farm in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The brothers built an imposing Italian villa at the farm but primarily used the land to cultivate vegetables unknown to Americans for their restaurant, such as endive, sorrel, eggplant, asparagus, Lupini beans, tomato and artichoke. But of course, Delmonico’s has become world-renowned for their aged steaks.

Their first three restaurants were all destroyed by fire, after which they purchased a triangular lot in Lower Manhattan and opened their landmark restaurant at Williams Street in 1837. Marketing geniuses, they claimed the two Corinthian columns at the portico were “salvaged” from Pompeii (many dispute this claim). Continue reading at Grand Voyage Italy.

 

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