What was your favorite restaurant of the past? One that is no longer around, but that you think of all the time with fond memories. And what was it about it that you especially liked? The food, the atmosphere, the staff – or maybe all of those. Tell us all about it, including where it was and give a rough idea of when you used to patronize it.
One of my favorites was Duff’s in St. Louis’ Central West End. Oddly, I have no memories of what I ate there at all, though I know I was happy with their menu. What I liked about it was that it represented a new trend in eating places in St. Louis, occurring in the 1970s. (It opened in 1972 and closed in 2013.) The new breed – also represented by others in the Central West End and University City — were at least somewhat more adventurous with their cuisine, but the big difference was their laid-back, offbeat “vibe.” At Duff’s this was due in large part to the mismatched tables, chairs, dishware, silverware — just about everything. It was friendly but not in an invasive, scripted way. A great place to meet friends for lunch.
62 responses to “Your favorite restaurant?”
Sfizzio was an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. It closed about 15 years ago. Very good food. Excellent bread. And, for no charge, they always brought a platter of sliced marinated eggplanr/zucchini/etc. to the table. Yeah, I miss that place.
Extras like that make a big impression.
My favorite restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown was Dew Heng. Reliable Cantonese. They put up a sign “Closed for Vacation” c. 1969 and never returned. In Los Angeles my favorite was Swiss Echo. They had the best gooseberry pie ever. Victim of retirement. In Eugene Kamitori had world class sushi and baked goods. The owner now operates a food cart serving damn good Japanese classics. A bunch of Kamitori regulars have become friends even keeping in touch during the pandemic. If any decent sushi becomes available in Eugene, we’ll all know instantly.
Restaurants are fleeting. Good that you are well connected.
So many memories of favorite restaurants growing up in the 70’s & 80’s in NH and with California relatives to see on vacation! There was the “Green Ridge Turkey Farm” in Nashua NH that did the best turkey dinners year round and had a taxidermy turkey wearing a diamond (or so I thought as a kid) crown on its head in the lobby. “Chestnuts” made the most amazing French onion soup with so much melted cheese on top they gave you a pair of kid scissors with each bowl to snip the gooey strands.
Out in CA we loved going to “Tony’s” on the pier in Redondo Beach for seafood. If you were lucky you got a table on the outer edge of the room with giant sliding glass doors that opened up to the outside with the ocean underneath. I didn’t care how long dinner took as long as I could sit there and watch the waves and surfers on the beach. Same thing for the “Sea Lion” (I think that was the name – might have been in Malibu?) where the waves sometimes crashed right on the windows!
Little Joe’s on Broadway in Los Angeles left an impression on me during childhood visits with my parents. It was an institution among family-style checkered-tablecloth Italian places and lasted almost 100 years. I recall the food was traditional, not adventurous but prepared and served with care and proper reverence. Eating there was An Event.. A few years later I discovered Yee Mee Loo/the Kwan Yin Temple (two names for one place, one for the restaurant and the other for the adjoining bar) just a few blocks away in Chinatown. The food wasn’t particularly great, but the decor hadn’t changed since the thirties and the drinks were strong.
Both long gone now. At least Phillipe is still in operation right around the corner.
I love places with character, like those.
In college, in the early 80s, I was a waiter at Kemoll’s in north St. Louis. Not sure how I got the job — all the other staff were hard-core lifers. The kitchen was amazing. Freshly made pasta drying over the backs of chairs. Live clams in the fridge, fed cornmeal every few days. Artichokes sliced paper thin and fried. Fried calamari and zabaglione weren’t on the menu but they’d make them for the insiders. A jig saw to cut wheels of Parmegiano in pieces we grated into table-side preparations of Paglia y Fieno (Straw and Hay, i.e. white and green fettuccini) and Carbonara. There was an afternoon shift of little old ladies just to slice garlic and cut lemons into wedges w/o peel, pith or seeds. I learned to cook during college at memorable places like that, including stints as a crepe assembler at Magic Pan in Plaza Frontenac, and a server at The Provences in the Breckenridge Hotel across the street. (BTW The Swiss Chalet on Brentwood was filthy, they didn’t wash plates if they ‘weren’t dirty enough.’) Yes Duff’s was cozy and arty; we also had lots of fun at nearby Balaban’s. (And Herbie’s — remember that?)
You got a fascinating education at Kemoll’s. I never visited Kemoll’s — think I really missed out. Herbie’s? Now I’m wondering if I ever ate at the Swiss Chalet. I’m afraid I might have!
Herbies was a short-lived restaurant right across from Culpepper’s on Euclid. Owned by Adalaide Balaban. Art Deco swanky restaurant turned gay disco at night. Ahead of it’s time!
Missed it completely.
Lyon’s English Grille in Palm Springs, CA. A 1960s establishment with an extraordinary Tudor Revival interior with stained glass scenes of Olde England, suits of armor, dozens of beer mugs on a shelf over the long bar, and costumed servers. The restaurant was huge with dozens of cozy tuck-and-roll booths and freestanding tables in several dining and banquet rooms. The food was English, of course, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding a specialty. And there was live entertainment nightly featuring a piano bar. Also, an old magician would wander from table to table doing tricks. It was purchased in 2014 and converted into an upscale steakhouse with nary a reference to its Tudor past.
Sounds like quite a place, very theatrical.
My take on your question may be a bit different, because the restaurant closed before I was born. Hotel de Paris Restaurant or Louis’ opened in Georgetown, Colorado in 1875 and closed in 1949. The restaurateur was Louis Dupuy (1844-1900), who was known as the best cook in the Colorado Territory. Remarkably, his establishment has been preserved and is visited by thousands of tourists annually. Dupuy’s reputation inspired May D&F to open Denver Louis’, which has also closed. I’m fortunate enough to run Hotel de Paris Museum, which is a Site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and member of Great American Treasures museum alliance.
Quite a history!
Two restaurants come to mind… Joanne’s for breakfast and an Italian dinner house whose name I’ve forgotten. Its dining room ceiling was covered everywhere in dangling paper money. Both were small, seating less than 40, both very lovingly managed by owners and family.
For the sake of brevity both offered expected items spiced up with tantalizing daily specials. One unique feature of Joanne’s was her offering freshly cut mixed fruit salad. Even plums, pears or other seasonal fruits. However selecting from menu or specials you were never to be disappointed.
The Italian dining spot was exceptional as well in both food and manner.
The owner had a curious custom of explaining to those who asked… that the ceiling was his “RETIREMENT FUND.”
If asked how the money got there he would say that he needed to demonstrate with a small donation. Next, with a bill neatly wrapped around a silver dollar it was deftly rocketed upward, embedding a well placed tack into the ceiling board.
Finally, having delivered its pay load, the silver dollar was released, falling back to earth to the waiting hand of the owner. Mystery solved.
Both restaurants offered and delivered unique, personal interpretations of the restaurant experience. Never forgetting and appreciating.
In addition to good food, it sounds like a fun place!
Stars in San Francisco during the 90s. It was *the* place to see and be seen, and was always buzzing. Never pretentious, and you felt as if you were in the center of everything when you were there.
I never went there but I’ve read all about it in California Dish.
Ruggeri’s was the scene of one of my most traumatic childhood memories, when my parents took me there for a birthday dinner. I wanted to request a song, but my father insisted I go up to Stan Kann at his “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ and make the request personally. My refusal to do so ended in a big argument; my punishment was that the promised sleep-over birthday party was cancelled (and I had already told my friends about it, so I was totally humiliated). Anyway, here’s a link.
http://www.losttables.com/ruggeris/ruggeris.htm [http://losttables.com/images/ruggeris/R.SLST.01.jpg1zA] Lost Tables: Ruggeri’s Watercolor by Marilynne Bradley Ruggeri’s. Antonio Ruggeri opened a tiny restaurant on Edwards Avenue just before the start of the 1904 World’s Fair. It was colorful and bright, with red and white checkered table clothes and the latest in gas lights. http://www.losttables.com
Nice painting with that story about Ruggeri’s. We didn’t ever go there. My parents liked small hideaway places. What a shame your birthday was spoiled.
WOW…What a collection of great comments…invaluable!
Another place I always wondered about was
‘The Gingerbread House” Cajan…at the bottom of Broadway Ave just before Jack London Square.
I grew up in Hawaii in the sixties and whenever my Grandmother got a commission from selling a house, and/or when relatives would fly in on the big prop plane from the mainland, she’d take us all out to dinner. There were a few spots: Fisherman’s Wharf at the Ala Wai Harbor, The Willows, or Haiku Gardens. I loved them all. Fisherman’s Wharf had the best ever tarter sauce and after dinner I was led downstairs by a waiter to a port-holed hallway, at the end of which was a giant treasure chest where I could pick out a toy. In 2010 when I went back the building was still there, though shuttered. The Willows was our fancy place with delicious steaks grilled mahi mahi, and lovely Hawaiian waitresses in muumuus. Haiku Gardens Restaurant was dropped into a paradise of misty mountains, streams and thick vegetation that I could explore while the grownups chattered on in the open air dining room. No matter which place, I always ate grilled mahi, and I was always well behaved, for dining out holds the best memories of childhood!
They all sound wonderful!
I’m a pipe organ nut, and my favorite as a kid was Bellevue, Washington’s “Pizza & Pipes,” one of those countless restaurants with an old theatre pipe organ installed. The Seattle location closed when I was very young. Bellevue’s pizza was terrible, but I wasn’t there for the food. After it closed, I began working in Tacoma and started going to the Tacoma location, which closed much later. Though the whole Pizza & Pipes chain (the rest were in northern California) supposedly used the same pizza recipe, Tacoma’s was fairly good. Over 150 such restaurants have existed; three remain. When I’m in Arizona, I go to Organ Stop, the biggest ever built, and they have really good food.
As an adult, my most lamented closure was Seattle’s Bleu Bistro. Located on Capitol Hill on Broadway Ave, it was easy to miss from the outside, a narrow storefront with dark windows and all woodwork painted black. At one point it had two black fences around little outdoor tables. Inside was always very dark. Tables were absolutely tiny, two-tops could be as small as 20″ square, in tiny, cramped booths, all of which had a tiny security camera inside or nearby (and signs reminding you of that fact), lit by strings of Christmas lights. The bar was also narrow and cramped; it was in the back, and had a long row of maybe 10 stools.
Bleu’s menu was strange, and I wish I had a copy. The items’ descriptions read like instructions for the chef, including notes about which plate to use and how to garnish, but abbreviated in odd ways and sometimes with little asides and silly bits. One page asked if you’d lost something and, assuming you got a menu containing a blank one, asked you to describe it, draw a picture of it and fill out a questionnaire! I filled one out describing a supposed stolen piano.
I miss Bleu’s wasabi grilled cheese, which came with two dipping sauces, a wasabi cream and an applesauce-like peach puree, their “Stelter Salad” with mandarin orange sections, and the gin fizz that was served in a frosty beer stein with the rim coated in multicolored candy sprinkles. Bleu eventually moved around the next block, into a bigger space called Bleu Bistro’s Grotto, which didn’t last very long for some reason. It lacked the charming cramped quarters, but the food and drinks stayed great.
Bleu sounds unusual, but so do restaurants with organs. I haven’t ever run across them!
My favorite was Tomâs Cafe,
It was called Les Cercles Bleus and was in the 14th arrondissement of Paris on a little square just off the rue Didot. The staff consisted of a chef in a small open kitchen in one corner and a waiter. There were about half a dozen tables inside and on good days, a couple more outside. The menu had just a few items, and changed every day. The food was standard French fare, well prepared. Local artists displayed their work on the walls. We ate there quite often during the summer of 2009. One day, we stopped by between the lunch and evening service to look at some new artwork on the walls. The waiter opened up for us. After a while, he asked if we’d mind keeping an eye on the place while he ran an errand. We stayed, and even let in another local who wanted to see the pictures. When the waiter came back, we told him we wanted to buy a picture. He said that the artist would probably be in for lunch the following day. He was, and we made a new acquaintance. It was the perfect local place — cozy, comfortable, a bit quirky, with good food and a welcoming atmosphere. Everyone talked to everyone else. We were sad when it closed a few years later.
Sounds like my kind of place too.
Where to start. Oh! My! Jan you are my homegirl. I start with the Branding Iron. Mom and Dad would take me there on a occasional Friday and there I would get a slice of beef from the biggest roast I have ever seen. The Branding Iron is a bank now. Fitz’s drive-in on Clayton is now part of a modern building and there is no more Fitz’s Root Beer. And I close with my post on barbecue. https://dangermencooking.blogspot.com/2009/07/mashed-potato-salad-pix-to-be-posted.html (a post about St. Louis).
That made me hungry! I see you are a very exacting cook. I’m impressed. The only disagreement I have is the Falstaff. My father’s favorite, but not mine. I did not learn to like beer until I moved away from St. Louis.
The ‘City Cafe’ in my little hometown of King City, California. The best Chile Verde in the WORLD.
I have tried many since I moved away, but theirs is (was) THE best.
I would guess it could be hard to find at all in many areas.
Most Mexican food restaurants have their own versions, but theirs is still the best.
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My favorite restaurant was the Swiss Chalet in San Juan, Puerto Rico. How a Swiss restaurant (and accompanying hotel) found its way to the Caribbean I am not sure but my wife, a native of San Juan, tells me two brothers from Switzerland started it back in the 1940s or early 50s. I believe it closed in the 1990s but the memories of cheese croquettes & Wienerschnitzel along with a pastry cart and fabulous coffee have lingered ever since I was first introduced to them while dating my future wife. Incidentally, if you ever decide to run a survey on a favorite fast food eatery no longer in business I would nominate the Dilly Wagon in Potsdam, NY.
I think the Swiss were once the princes of the restaurant industry worldwide.
I wonder what ever happened to the owners?? Being from PR I am into history and finding out what/where/why. I remember going to school with the daughter of the owner (Grever/Greber). Our HS graduation luncheon was at the restaurant and it was the first time in my life that I attended a fancy restaurant and ate a fancy dinner.
Loved the Paris Inn (Chinese restaurant from the 1930’s) and a bunch of places my folks took me to – like the German restaurants on Clark and north Lincoln Ave. Zum Deutschen Eck (Sp?) The Golden Ox and others. There was the original Frances’s on Clark and Arlington. Don the Beachcombers on Walton with the great appetizers and the International Club at the Drake Hotel where I watched Playboy Bunnies practice the “dip” through the picture windows in the building across the street. I could go on 🤣
They gave you a restaurant education!
Hi Jan, I love your entry about Duff’s. The Central West End is a charming place to eat out. I hope it survives covid. My favorite but closed restaurant is the Health Food Kitchen in Chicago. The vegi food there was delicious, yet healthy (i.e., fresh, organic and low on sugar, salt and fat). I still feel healthy just thinking about meals there: falafel stroganoff, spinach lasagna, tempeh “crab cakes,” chick pea salad, celery-barley soup, etc.
Busch’s Grove and Bevo Mill where I have my first lobster. Remember picking the poor thing out of the tank!
Two St. Louis classics for sure.
My childhood memories of Bevo Mill are all about sauerbraten, potato pancakes, and apple strudel (with brandy sauce?).
Sounds so good.
Probably the most famous restaurant of the past that I remember fondly was Hausner’s in Baltimore. Fine German cuisine, and the walls covered to the inch with the most amazing collection of bad European street art. They closed in the 90s, I think. As a kid I was amazed to discover that there were different kinds of sausages…
Then there was Au Pied du Cochon in Georgetown, DC, mostly famous for the Soviet defector who changed his mind there and went back to Russia. That’s where I learned to drink Kir, and espresso, and eat baked brie, all of which seemed very exotic to me at the time.
I think that sense of discovery is so memorable, and it often happens in restaurants.
Discovering sausage varieties, that’s great!
Oh how I miss Au Pied on Wisconsin Ave! Baguettes with Brie and chocolate mousse were about all we could afford as broke college kids but it was yummy and the atmosphere was great!
I miss many “ethnic” restaurants in NYC; among them: Cabana Carioca, in midtown, and Cedars of Lebanon on the east side, farther downtown. CC was inexpensive, up a long narrow staircase, but the Portuguese/Brazilian food was the best. C of L was only slightly more upscale, serving elegant middle eastern dishes.
At least I can make some of the dishes from both of them—Milton Glaser’s Underground Gourmet Cookbook includes recipes from them (and many more of my long-gone hangouts).
Also (not a restaurant): Casa Moneo, a Latin-American grocery that closed—alas—in 1988.
Both sound appealing!
My dad went to Washington, DC often for business and if it was in the summertime, the family often made a vacation out if it. Whenever we went, my dad always had us make a trip to the Peter Pan Inn, in Urbana, MD. They had peacocks! I can’t remember much about the food, since I probably just ordered from the kids menu. But I kind of remember that my dad would always get prime rib (still a favorite of his).
Peacocks would be hard to forget!
My most memorable restaurant from my early years has to be the Falcon Cafe in Pierre, SD. It helps that I was about 10 and impressionable when I first went there with my mother, who worked for the legislature. It was my first experience of a really “adult” restaurant, with cocktails and a more formal dining presentation (although my review just now of the images reveals it was relatively humble). The political meeting place for South Dakota politicians for many years, it was also was connected to celebrity, a rare enough occurrence in the state. It featured the “Trophy Room” housing memorabilia of champion rodeo rider Casey Tibbs. The Trophy Room was even the setting for the inaugural ball for Governor Joe Foss in 1955 — a celebrity in his own way as a WWII flying ace.
The Falcon was built by Albert and Betty Falk in 1950 after they had run another political eatery from 1946 to 1950, the coffee shop and dining room of the St. Charles Hotel, across from the state capitol. Connected to the Terrace Motel, the architecture had a distinct western, mid-century modern feel, a national trend South Dakota definitely participated in at the time.
Sounds very South Dakotan!
I had two favorites as a teenager..”Sy Ho” on Hillside Avenue in Hollis, NY ..old school Cantonese with a superb house dinner and “Perriwinkles/Tommy the Lobster King”a few blocks away….great seafood, clam chowder, unique salad dressing and nesslerode pie for dessert
You were lucky to get lobster. That was quite expensive in the midwest.