Just a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, the frenetic hub of the economic life of the nation, the imposing colonnaded entrance of Delmonico’s Restaurant still represents an oasis of calm and elegance for the great city’s rich and powerful. It was there in the late 1800s, at lavish banquets in Delmonico’s elegant, wood-paneled dining rooms that Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and the cream of New York high society praised the elegant cuisine.
But an early menu bearing the name “Delmonico’s,” long considered the first restaurant bill of fare ever printed in America, offers cheap and simple food. Was the story of Delmonico’s one of increasing culinary sophistication that began with pigs’ feet and hamburger steak and only gradually developed its offering of expensive gourmet cuisine? Or have some telltale clues contained in the early printed menu been overlooked by generations of food historians? In this episode we’ll take a cook’s tour of early Manhattan eating places and uncover a strange story about food and its mysteriously changing relationship to social status and economic success in the heart of America’s financial capital.