When Delmonico’s restaurant opened on William Street in 1837, New Yorkers had never experienced anything like it: a fine dining establishment that let customers order from an extensive menu. The prevailing custom at the time at taverns and inns was for patrons to eat whatever the cook decided to whip up that day. Delmonico’s also pioneered the separate wine list and ladies dining area.
After relocating several times in lower Manhattan, the restaurant moved to 14th Street and Fifth Avenue. Here, the new head chef, French-born Charles Ranhofer, solidified his rep as one of the best chefs in the country. He invented many still-popular dishes, like lobster Newberg and baked Alaska.
He also popularized the avocado (then known as the “alligator pear”) and named dishes after A-listers of the day, like Veal Pie a la Dickens and Sarah potatoes, for actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Ranhofer collected all of his recipes and published them in his 1894 cookbook, The Epicurean, which ran one thousand pages. No doubt he would be a Food Network star if he were running a kitchen today.
Delmonico’s lasted until 1923, a casualty of Prohibition. But a quarter century before that, the restaurant hosted a dinner for Mark Twain, at left.