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This is a very good book! It looks at a series of restaurants throughout American history. Paul Freedman, the author, says of his goal: “Reading about the ten restaurants gives me a sense of American diversity, and how these different experiments expressed a sense of love that is the basic ingredient of any major endeavor.”
The restaurants selected? Some great names and some surprises. The places: Delmonico’s (America’s first “great” restaurant), Antoine’s (a Creole restaurant), Schrafft’s ( a re
Weighty, intense, and amazing. The author delivers exactly what the title promises – examinations of ten restaurants that – for whatever reason – changed America. Not the ten historically best, not the ten most famous, not the ten most influential, yet nevertheless ten fascinating stories.
Every chapter not only looks at the restaurant in question but places it in context for its place and time. No PR puff pieces here.
Capped with an Epilogue that explores in more depth five themes of modern din
“Disdain for gastronomic pretentiousness has often influenced politics. During the 1840 presidential campaign, the incumbent Martin Van Buren was portrayed as routinely eating fricandeau de veau and omelette soufflé, or in another attack, enjoying pâté de foie gras from a silver plate followed by soupe à la Reine sipped from a golden spoon. His opponent, William Henry Harrison, an aging hero of the War of 1812, was extolled for his simple tastes, by contrast, favoring raw beef without salt, and
Ten Restaurants That Changed America is an exhaustively researched history of dining in America, mostly focused on restaurant dining as illustrated by the ten restaurants of the title, but also touching on home cooking trends as influenced by these restaurants. Weighing in at 500 pages, including text, photos and menus, recipes from each of the restaurants, notes, bibliography, and index, it’s by turns fascinating and tedious.
Restaurants featured are:
Delmonico’s — first “real” restaurant in U.S., French cuisine, NYC (1827-1923)
Antoine’s — ostensibly French restaurant with Creole influence, New Orleans (1840-present)
Schraffts — chain of alcohol-free restaurants marketed to women, NYC (1906-1980s)
Howard Johnson’s — chain of family restaurants focused on cleanliness and uniformity, started in MA, spread nationwide (1925-present, only one restaurant remains open of the more than 1,000)
Mama Leone’s — Italian restaurant, first critically aclaimed “ethnic” restaurant, NYC (1906-1994)
The Mandarin — Chinese restaurant that elevated Chinese cuisine above “chop suey,” San Francisco (1960-2006)
Sylvia’s — “Soul Food” restaurant that brought Southern home-cooking style food into the main stream, Harlem, NYC (1962-present)
Le Pavillon — French restaurant that reintroduced classic French cuisine and influenced a new generation of chefs, NYC (1941-1971)
The Four Seasons — most expensive restaurant ever built that introduced the concepts of seasonal dining and the “power lunch,” NYC (1959-2016, but planning to reopen in new location)
Chez Panisse — initially French-influenced casual restaurant featuring set menu that pioneered local food and Californian/New American cuisine, Berkeley (1971-present)