The other Delmonicos

delmonicoDENVER84REVIn the mid-19th century there was only one American restaurant with a worldwide reputation, Delmonico’s in New York City. A Tribune reporter wrote in the 1840s that Delmonico’s represented the sole example of an “expensive and aristocratic” restaurant which was “equal in every respect, in its appointments and attendance as well as the quality and execution of its dishes, to any similar establishment in Paris itself.”

Consequently the name Delmonico was worth gold. In the middle of the century it began to crop up everywhere.

The best known of the “other Delmonicos” was one in San Francisco. It came by its name honestly since it was established by Cyrus Delmonico, an Italian-Swiss relative of the New York Delmonicos. He opened his restaurant in 1850, selling it two years later to Giocondo Giannini (who, it must be noted, did not change the name to Giannini’s).

In 1850 Delmonico’s in San Francisco occupied the second floor of a frame house whose lower floor held a market selling beef, Sandwich Islands squashes, and $2 cabbages. The narrow room whose walls and ceiling were covered in white muslin held two rows of tables. Even though modest in appearance it was considered one of the best and most expensive eating places in a town where provisions were scarce and miners carried gold in their pockets. Breaded veal cutlets went for $1 and lobster salad was $2. With wine, a full meal could easily cost the princely sum of $5.

There continued to be a Delmonico’s in San Francisco into the 20th century though how much continuity it had with the 1850s establishment I don’t know. After the turn of the century it was classed with other eating places designated as “French restaurants” (meaningfully enclosed in quotation marks) or “so-called French restaurants,” which everyone knew meant that upstairs rooms were available for sexual liaisons. Delmonico’s, along with Marchand’s, the Poodle Dog, the Pup, and Tortoni’s, were the object of a shakedown by public officials who held up liquor licenses until protection money was paid.

What is interesting about most of the Delmonico restaurants that populated the West and other parts is that a proprietor could be of any nationality as could the fare. Many had cuisine that might be described as ethnically indeterminate, as is illustrated by a menu from San Diego’s turn-of-the-century Delmonico which features roast beef, roast pork, or roast mutton served with fried potatoes, bread & butter, and coffee, supplemented by baked beans, omelets, ham & eggs, oysters, and pie. Some of the other Delmonicos served French food and at least one furnished Chinese cuisine but probably most were Italian or gastronomically nondescript.

delmonicokeywest31From the 1870s up to the 1930s, but not so much after that (except for New Orleans?), I’ve found Delmonicos in Los Angeles, Denver, Colorado Springs, Tombstone, Phoenix, Helena, Portland OR, El Paso, Dallas, Walla Walla, Mobile, Memphis, Winona MN, Leavenworth KS, Detroit, Key West (1931 ad pictured), Pittsburgh, Buffalo – and more. Proprietors names ranged from Gutekunst to Garibotti to McDougal.

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

15 Comments

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15 responses to “The other Delmonicos

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  2. Debra DeNearing

    My mother believes her great grandfather was one of the chefs of Delmonicos in the 1800’s. We think his last name was either Velard or Villard. Do you have any info on this? Thanks.

    • No, I’m afraid I have not seen those names in connection with the Delmonico staff. The several Delmonico restaurants in NYC had large kitchen staffs and, generally, individual’s names did not appear in print anywhere.

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  5. Janet W.Thor

    My great grandfather, Joseph Malfanti, a Swiss-Italian from Son Vico owned the San Francisco Delmonico’s from the 1880’s until it went down in the earthquake of 1906. He had two partners in the restaurant, Charles Kelb and William LeFrens. The restaurant served French and Northern Italian cuisine. We still have menus and recipes from the time when he owned the restaurant.

    • Tom Wolfe

      Jan — do you have the address for the San Francisco Delmonico’s? Any picture or menu? I am doing historical research and this information would be very helpful indeed — many thanks.

      • I’ve never seen an image or menu for Delmonico’s in San Francisco. In the 1890s it was on O’Farrell Street, nos. 8-14 in the early part of the decade and 110-112 by the end. I am assuming 110 O’Farrell was the restaurant’s address at the time of the earthquake and fires when it was destroyed. Later there was a “New Delmonico’s” restaurant and hotel at 362 Geary but I’m not sure whether it had much connection with the earlier restaurant.

      • PENI J DAWES

        I HAVE A MENU PRINTED ON SILK FROM A FETE THAT WAS HELD IN THE DEL MONICO HOTEL ON OCTOBER 19 1866, WE HAVE IT IN A CURIO. IT IS WELL PRESERVED, IT WAS IN HONOR OF A GREAT UNCLE. HIS NAME WAS GEORGE KEMP.

  6. Cynthia Wilson

    There was also the famous Pullman dining car the “Delmonico” built for the Chicago & Alton railroad and named after the original New York Delmonico’s restaurant. Any idea what the early dinnerware for the restaurant looked like? I’ve seen the later “D” within a laurel wreath and I have a rare Bauscher piece from the Delmonico dining coach but have yet to see any others. Certainly they would be topmarked some how..

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  8. Interesting. I’m most familiar with the New Orleans version, but I never realized that the country was full of Delmonicos.

    Was there no attempt by the original to stop the imitators? Or perhaps the New York restaurants didn’t view them as imitators that could “damage the brand.”

  9. Actually, a type of rib eye steak preparation is still called Delmonico, and the restaurant no doubt made a fortune off of tying two heart of ribeyes together with twine and serving them to one person. However, this practice invariably left the rest of the ribeye loin unusable except as stew meat, so it is not a common practice in most restaurants. Supposedly, other cuts such as top loin can be given the Delmonico treatment, which only adds to the confustion

  10. There is one other Delmonico’s still going on today . . . Emeril’s Delmonico, originally of New Orleans and now Las Vegas, too. It opened in 1895–probably as one of the many Delmonico copies, and Emeril Lagasse bought it in 1997.

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