At 180 Years Young, Delmonico’s Celebrates

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Delmonico’s has sat at the intersection of Beaver, William and South William for 180 years. It is the oldest restaurant in America, and the birthplace of the Delmonico Steak, Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska and Lobster Newberg. It was the first restaurant to have a printed menu, the first to offer private dining, the first to have place settings, and the first to admit women without a male companion. Eleven sitting presidents have dined there. The columns on its façade were recovered from Pompeii.

Chinese Delmonico was in Chinatown. There is a photo of its interior from 1905 at The Museum of the City of New York. The two were never affiliated. But a century ago, the Delmonico name was so closely tied to dining, that it was interchangeable with the word “restaurant,” much like how “Kleenex” has replaced “tissue” or “Sharpie” has replaced “permanent marker.”

“Delmonico’s wasn’t only a restaurant, but a place that influenced history,” says Dennis Turcinovic, who now owns Delmonico’s. “The dishes that were created here were so famous, that they started appearing on everyone’s menus.” Turcinovic’s father bought the restaurant in 1998, taking over the establishment at a time when there was little foot traffic in the financial district—one of many trends and historical events that the stone façade has seen. “The area was like a ghost town then,” recalls Dennis. “No one ever came downtown, except to go to the World Trade Center or the Seaport.”

Years prior, the Seaport was closer to the restaurant; and the farm that fed Delmonico’s not-yet-trending farm-to-table concept was in not-yet-trending Williamsburg. The restaurant was founded by brothers John and Peter Delmonico in a small space just down the street from the current 56 Beaver Street location, which opened in 1837. They brought the European concept of fine dining to the U.S., and expanded it.

Many of the iconic Delmonico’s dishes can be attributed to Chef Charles Ranhofer, who was with the restaurant between 1862 and 1869, but the Turcinovic family is credited with turning Delmonico’s into a steak house. A century ago, “turtle soup was popular,” Turcinovic says. “Meat was not.”

Ranhofer was instrumental to Delmonico’s legacy. “He took an amazing place and made it more popular,” Turcinovic says. “He was unlike any other celebrity chef.”

Among the dishes he created was Lobster Newberg. Sea captain Ben Wenberg brought Ranhofer, who had just discovered Cayenne pepper, and the Delmonico brothers a lobster and a new way to cook it. Ranhofer refined the recipe, putting Lobster Wenberg on the menu. Some time later, the two had a fight, and Ranhofer banned Lobster Wenberg from the restaurant. Customers were furious, so Ranhofer put it back on the menu, but to honor the grudge, he swapped the ‘w’ and the ‘n’ to create Lobster Newberg.

Delmonico’s will celebrate Ranhofer’s contributions and Delmonico’s legacy with an anniversary celebration on September 13, followed by a month-long tribute menu, where A-List chefs will create Delmonico’s-inspired dished. Among the offerings will be Union Square Café’s Lobster Shepherd’s Pie, which was inspired by Lobster Newberg, by Danny Meyer; and Nine Herb Ravioli by Daniel Boulud. “As a French chef, I wanted to make something Tuscan-inspired with a Provençal twist — a perfect homage to Delmonico’s, which has continued to shape American cuisine by incorporating the best of Europe’s culinary styling and influences,” says Boulud.

The menu will be available through October 14, and Delmonico’s will also offer a special 180-day dry-aged steak to commemorate the anniversary. But, unlike the restaurant itself, the dish will only be around in limited quantity, for a limited time.



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