10 Iconic Foods Invented or Perfected in New York
My best friend came to visit a few weeks ago and he had never been to New York City. I panicked as to how to fit in a full experience in just a few days. Then I realized the best way to submerge yourself in any new place is through local cuisine. Nothing will beat the memory of us eating hot dogs in front Teddy Roosevelt at the Museum of Natural History.
Here’s a list of 10 iconic New York foods. Some are true originals, some were just perfected here, either way they are all delicious and well worth trying.
1) Halfmoon Cookies/Black & White Cookies
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The two cookies are sometimes confused but they are made with completely different ingredients to help differentiate. Halfmoons are made with a chocolate cake base, dark fudge icing on one side, and sugary white frosting on the other. They are softer and more moist than the black-and-white cookies. Utica’s Hemstrought’s Bakery is best known for the black-and-white cookies. These are made with a vanilla cake base with fudge and white frosting. Both date back to the very early 1900’s and are considered a New York snack. My Mom has bought me many of these over the years on our Long Island road trips.
2) Eggs Benedict
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While there are many different ways to make this dish, the classic New York way is: ham/bacon, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce under an English muffin. There are two versions of it’s origin also. One of which comes out of the Waldorf Hotel (they appear on the list again) in 1894. A retired Wall Street broker wandered into the hotel completely hungover looking for a cure. A heavy meal was need to sop up the previous night’s booze. Lemuel Benedict ordered buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a side of hollandaise according to The New Yorker. The maître d’ was so impressed by the meals effectiveness he put it on the menu. Another story gives credit to Delmonico’s (they’re coming up again too) in the 1860s for creating the eggy goodness. Socialite Mrs. LeGrand Benedict found nothing on the menu that fancied her and demanded something new from the chef. This is what Chef Charles Ranhofer produced. Me…I like the one with the drunk guy.
3) Lobster Newberg
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Lobster Newberg was concocted at the aforementioned Delmonico’s once again by Chef Charles Ranofer & Ben Wenberg (a sea captain that frequented the restaurant) in 1876. The succulent seafood dish is made up of lobster, butter, cream, cognac, sherry, eggs, and cayenne pepper. The item was added as Lobster à la Wenberg. Not long after it’s inception the two men had a heated argument and the item was removed but customers started clamoring for it back. To appease their patrons the name was changed to Lobster Newberg.
4) Manhattan Clam Chowder
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In 1889 the chef at, once again, Delmonico’s was Alessandro Filippini. He envisioned a tomato based clam chowder. The chowder was also known as New York clam chowder or Fulton Fish Market since many other upscale restaurants of the time tried to imitate what Delmonico’s was doing. When French chef Charles Ranhofer came to the restaurant he tweaked the recipe in 1984. And any child of the 90’s knows that Clam Chowder is also Ace Venture’s password….or is it? RED of WHITE?
5) Waldorf Salad
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This is hand’s down one of my favorite NY foods. If you find a restaurant that does it well it’s like heaven. And I will never forget the ingredients thanks to Fawlty Towers. The salad also inspired Cole Porter to include it in one of his songs, “You’re the Top.” A simple salad of apples, celery, walnuts, on a bed of lettuce with mayonnaise it was created in the late 1890s at Waldorf Hotel. So the salad predates the merger with the adjacent Astoria hotel. Oscar Tschirky, the maître d’ helped developed many of the Waldorf’s signatures including this salad. He was credited as the creator in 1896 – ‘Waldorf Salad’ by Oscar of the Waldorf.
6) Reuben Sandwich
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One of New York’s most iconic foods is the Reuben. There are a few origin stories regarding the famous sandwich. The most prominent involves one Arnold Reuben of Reuben’s Delicatessen. The sandwich made it’s appearance as the ‘Reuben Special’ in 1914. In the early 1910s the restaurant was located on Broadway and the sandwich was debuted in an issue of Theatre Magazine in 1926. The Reuben gained popularity when Broadway actress Marjorie Rambeau ordered it late one night and raved about it. The stories also confirm the original sandwich did not contain corned beef or sauerkraut and was not grilled. Other versions suggest Reuben’s chef, Alfred Scheuing, created it as a treat for Arnold’s son. Today we know the Rueben is a hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut with Thousand Island dressing on grilled rye bread. As Reuben’s Delicatessen closed it’s doors in 2001 I’d suggest either Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop or Katz’s Delicatessen as the best place to pick one of these up today.
7) Pastrami Sandwich
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The New York version of the Pastrami sandwich or ‘Pastrami on Rye’ is just that sliced pastrami, served hot on rye bread accompanied by coleslaw and Russian dressing. In NY, pastrami tends to be cured in a ton of spices before it’s smoked. Lithuanian immigrant Sussman Volk gave us this sandwich in 1887. He was a kosher butcher and received the recipe from a Romanian friend who traded it to Volk in exchange for space to store their luggage while they were away. Volk started selling the sandwiches out of the butcher shop. Popularity grew so quickly that the shop was converted into a full-fledged restaurant. No place is better than Katz’ Delicatessen to order this and live out your When Harry Met Sally fantasy.
8) Coal Brick Oven Pizza
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NY pizzas are characterized by being large hand-tossed, thin crispy crust, and light on sauce. Individual slices are thin and are meant to be folded in half. The only proper way to eat pizza! New York style pizza originated in the early 1900s by way of the first pizzeria in America. No surprise it was in Little Italy in 1905 opened by Gennaro Lombardi. Lombardi originally had a grocery store but waited 8 years until the state licensed him to sell pizza. Pizzas where five cents a pie but most customers couldn’t afford it, so what did he do? It was the birth of the single slice for a fairer price. In 1984, the original Lombardi’s closed, and went on a 10 year hiatus. Reopening 10 blocks from it’s original local the business is run by Lombardi’s grandson. So Lombardi’s is still in operation, however a large pizza is now $22.50.
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A classic NYC street food. It’s a rite of passage in my opinion. It’s a delightful snack of a filling covered with dough that is either baked, grilled, or deep fried. In 1910 the first American knish bakery opened in New York. That bakery is Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery. The business started by it’s namesake Yonah, who was a Romanian immigrant, had up until that point operated as just a pushcart. The restaurant is a landmark of the lower east side and has many admirers from politicians to film stars. The bakery is still a family owned business and is being run by a nephew of Yonah.
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Obviously the predecessor of the hot dog came from Germany. But how America turned a tube of meat into a cultural event on the 4th of July is pure USA! In the 1870s German immigrant Charles Feltman started selling sausage rolls on Coney Island. By the early 1900s NYC was filled with carts selling the franks for 3 cents a piece. The Coney way is for your dog to be nestled with sauerkraut, sweet relish, onion sauce, and/or mustard. Nathan’s Famous kosher beef hot dogs are still the most famous hot dog name in Athe US. Don’t fret if you don’t live near Coney Island, you can pick up a pack of Nathan’s at your local grocery store.