Visit the Birthplace of the Brownie! (Plus Six More Cradles of Culinary Invention)

From clam chowder to the baked alaska (pictured above), here are famous foods and the still-in-business places where you can try the original

Do you ever catch yourself taking your food for granted? Chowing down and drinking up without considering all the heart and invention that’s been put into it?

Oftentimes you can go and pay tribute to a famous dish or food concept in the precise spot where it was invented (or at least where it was claimed to be invented) – sites of pilgrimage are scattered throughout the cities Billy covers. Here, we’ve rounded up several dining establishments known to be the birthplaces for a number of popular gastronomic delights.

The brownie: Palmer House Hilton, Chicago

When folks think of Chicago and food, deep-dish pizza comes to mind, and perhaps hot dogs laden with sweet relish and peppers. What most people don’t know is that the brownie is also a Chicago treasure. It was created at the direction of hotelier Bertha Palmer, who wanted decadent chocolate sweets served at the 1893 World’s Fair. She wanted a confection that was memorable and and easy to consume, and thus, the brownie was born. The same recipe is still sold in the hotel’s restaurant, Lockwood.

17 E. Monroe St., 312-726-7500

Palmer House Hilton

It's not just any brownie, it's the original brownie

New England clam chowder: Union Oyster House, Boston

Among Boston’s many historic landmarks for culinary adventures, the Union Oyster House is arguably the premier example; the greatest must-visit. Not only does it hold the distinction of being the oldest restaurant in the United States, but it’s been continuously in business since 1826. Everyone from John F. Kennedy to a deposed king of France have been regulars. Housed in a building dating back to the country’s pre-revolutionary era, Union Oyster House is the place that put clam chowder on the map, and it still serves up a chunky rendition. Some of the original dishes are still on the menu, including fried or stewed oysters, clams and scallops.

41 Union St., 617-227-2750

Union Oyster House


The bloody mary: King Cole Bar and Salon, New York

To read the account of cocktail historian David Wondrich, the invention of the bloody mary involved a genesis at Harry’s New York Bar – an American-style bar in Paris that was popular with actual Americans. Over in New York itself, the St. Regis Hotel imported French-born bartender Fernand Petiot and his knowhow in 1933 (around the time Prohibition ended), and he took the bloody mary with him – although he preferred to call the drink a “red snapper,” and the King Cole Bar continued to call it that for decades. In the St. Regis’s telling of the story, among Petiot’s first customers was Russian prince Serge Obolensky, who was at the time married to the St. Regis’s owner’s daughter. As a reminder of the drink’s origins, shots of the spicy red concoction were served to guests during the bar’s reopening in 2013. There are now six variations of the bloody mary on the menu, from the original red snapper recipe to contributions from the St. Regis hotels in Houston, Japan and Rome.

2 East 55th St., 212-339-6857

Lobster newburg and baked alaska: Delmonico's, New York

It should come as no surprise that the United States’ first fine-dining restaurant opened in New York City. Situated in the tony Financial District, Delmonico’s opened in 1837 and was the first place in the country to call itself a “restaurant.” It also believes itself to be the first dining establishment with white tablecloths, and helped establish the practice of having a cellar for fine wines. The lobster newberg became probably its most important signature dish, featuring rich layers of shellfish in cream, cognac, sherry and cayenne pepper. The restaurant is also credited with inventing the baked alaska, a dessert that miraculously combines cold ice cream with hot meringue. And there’s more: Delmonico’s also was the birthplace of the brunch staple eggs benedict and the boneless ribeye steak (a a “Delmonico cut”).

56 Beaver St., 212-509-1144


The banquet burger: Fran’s Restaurant & Bar, Toronto

You might think of a bacon cheeseburger as something that simply invented itself, but in Ontario it’s often known as a “banquet burger,” and this iconic diner – which has been around in one form or another since 1940 – claims the idea as its own. What makes the burger distinct goes beyond the bacon and cheese: It’s slathered in a bourbon bacon maple syrup spread. While the original Fran’s location is now gone, patrons may hit up one of several outposts, such as one in the boutique-style Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto.

Multiple locations

The Cronut: Dominique Ansel Bakery, New York

By far the newest food item on our list, the Cronut – officially, the Cronut® – is the half doughnut, half croissant treat that sent the world in a frenzy circa 2013. It was invented by one Dominique Ansel, who is no flash in the pan. Long before the Cronut, was head of the pastry kitchen at Daniel. That’s Daniel Boulud’s flagship New York restaurant, which can claim three Michelin stars among its heaps of acclaim. At Ansel’s outfit, the vibe is more casual, and the line starts forming outside hours before opening. The delicate, flaky delight has inspired copycats everywhere, but nothing’s like the real deal. It comes in just one flavour each month. Previous flavors have included apple crème fraîche, Caribbean rum raisin, and peach and bourbon. (As we publish in November 2016, the current flavour is maple pecan with salted sugar.)

189 Spring St., 212-219-2773

Courtesy Dominique Ansel Bakery

This is just teasing you. It's impossible to buy different kinds of Cronuts at once

The half-smoke sausage: Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington

It’s a bit odd that the U.S. capital has only a few bragging rights when it comes to original dishes. The one that most D.C. insiders will mention is the half smoke, an encased meat delicacy said to have been invented at the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. The original location is in the revitalized U Street Corridor neighbourhood, a predominantly African-American community that was also the birthplace of jazz legend Duke Ellington. The family-owned operation opened in 1958 and introduced a pork-and-beef smoked sausage that comes on a warm steamed bun and topped with mustard, onions and a spicy homemade chili sauce. Days before his first inauguration, President Barack Obama devoured a half smoke to the delight of onlookers.

1213 U St. NW, 202-667-0909

Ben's Chili Bowl

Published Monday, November 14th 2016

Header image credit: Baked alaska / Courtesy Delmonico's



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