DELMONICO FAMILY. The Delmonicos are a family dynasty of restaurateurs of Italian Swiss origin who created some of the most legendary and opulent restaurants in the United States.
The principal founders of the American clan were the brothers Pietro Antonio (1783–1861) and Giovanni (1788–1842) Del Monico, who established themselves under the names Peter and John Delmonico at 23 William Street in New York in 1827. Shrewdly advertising their business as a European-style café in New York's business district, the brothers quickly amassed a fortune based on excellent service and a menu that became a magnet for New York's European expatriates and American nouveaux riches.
As the business grew and thrived, other members of the family emigrated from Switzerland and joined Peter and John, including a nephew Lorenzo (1813–1881) who eventually became the genius behind the success of the family's restaurant empire. Lorenzo joined the firm in 1831 when it expanded from a café into a true restaurant française. This first restaurant, at 25 William Street, was only the first of several locations that eventually opened and operated under the Delmonico name. As businesses moved uptown, Delmonico's followed. In 1876, Lorenzo moved the main restaurant to Fifth Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street, facing Madison Square. This new address, complete with a ballroom that quickly became the centerpiece of New York society, launched Delmonico's into New York's Gilded Age and perhaps the restaurant's greatest period of fame.
Under the oversight of European-trained chef Charles Ranhofer, Delmonicos became synonymous with ostentatious banquets and gastronomic sensations. Ranhofer's encyclopedic cookbook called The Epicurean (1894) records many of the recipes and menus that made Delmonico's famous during his culinary reign. The Delmonico Cookbook (1880), a less opulent cookbook by former Delmonico chef Alessandro Filippini, also records many of the foods served in the restaurant. Throughout much of the history of the various restaurants owned by the family, the majority of customers were businessmen; women were not served in the public dining rooms unless escorted, although this rule was relaxed somewhat during the 1880s. The famous dinners at which women were present were held in ornately furnished private rooms designed for this purpose.
The restaurant's last move occurred in 1897 when it took up a new location on Fifth Avenue at Forty-fourth Street. The Delmonico restaurant empire eventually became overextended and difficult to manage. The business closed its doors in 1923, a victim of income tax, Prohibition, and changing lifestyles of New York's rich and famous. Today the name Delmonico survives in a pudding, a melon, and a cut of steak taken from a rib of beef, the American equivalent of entrecôte.
See also Restaurants .
Filippini, Alessandro. The Delmonico Cookbook. New York, 1880.
Rimmer, Leopold. History of Old New York and the House of Delmonicos. New York, 1898.
Stephenson, Byron C. "Delmonico's." The Illustrated American (16 May 1891).
Thomas, Lately. Delmonico's: A Century of Splendor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.
Ward, Samuel. Lyrical Recreations. London: Macmillan, 1883.
William Woys Weaver