Stephen Fries: Yale professor recounts history through restaurants

Foodies and history buffs alike will be intrigued by reading “Ten Restaurants That Changed America,” by Paul Freedman (2016, Liveright Publishing, $35). Freedman takes a look at American history through the “eyes” of 10 iconic restaurants. I think many of you have dined at one of them. I especially enjoyed the chapters about the restaurants I have been to. For me, it brought back memories of nights at Howard Johnson’s all you can eat fish fry (recipe for fried clams below); Schrafft’s famous ice cream and desserts; eating at Mamma Leone’s with my parents before a Broadway show; and tasting Oysters Rockefeller for the first time at Antoine’s in New Orleans, founded in 1840. The restaurant invented the famous dish whose recipe is a closely-guarded secret.

The 10 restaurants are very different from each other and each has a colorful history. Freedman, a professor of history , leads an interdisciplinary food studies program at Yale University. He shows how the first restaurants in America catered to the upper classes in the latter half of the nineteenth century before crossing over into mainstream life and responding to social trends. When we dine at a restaurant we think of food not merely as fuel but also as pleasure and entertainment.

The book begins with Delmonico’s in New York opened in 1831, the first true establishment catering exclusively to affluent men for fine dining. Chapters also include what Freedman calls underappreciated cuisines served at The Mandarin and Sylvia’s.

Peppered with recipes from the restaurants, Freedman shares iconic dishes introduced to the American palate including Antoine’s Oysters Rockefeller and flambéed coffee called Café Diabolique; Delmonico’s Lobster Newburg, Baked Alaska, and Eggs Benedict; Howard Johnson’s fried clams; Mamma Leone’s Fettucini Al’Alfredo of Rome; The Mandarin’s Sichuan Twice Cooked Pork, Sylvia’s Boiled String Beans with Ham; Schrafft’s Chicken A La King (recipe below); Le Pavillion’s Omelettes Froides Au Crabe; The Four Season’s Crisped Shrimp with Mustard Fruit; and Chez Panise’s Curly Endive, Radicchio, and Fuyu Persimmon Salad.

Take a step back in time when looking at the many photographs and illustrations, and better yet, come to the C.O.O.K. event at 6 p.m. May 2at Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, where you can enjoy a culinary event featuring Paul Freedman as he takes you through the history of dining out in America as told through 10 legendary restaurants. You will also enjoy a reception and three-course dinner featuring famous dishes from a few of the restaurants in the book. Chef Dave McCoart, formerly owner of Sage Restaurant in New Haven will demonstrate how the dishes are made. Culinary and hospitality management students from the college will prepare the dishes and serve. Each guest will receive a copy of the book that will be signed by the author. Bring your ticket from the Temple Street garage to be validated. Tickets $75 available at

And to top it all off, Freedman will give a sneak preview of his forthcoming book, “Ten Restaurants Changing America Now.”

(from “When Everybody Ate at Schrafft’s,” by Joan Kanel Slomanson; Barricade Books, 2006)

The headnote says “Chicken a la King was among the most popular main courses at Schrafft’s beginning in the 1930s. Invented around 1900, the dish was considered dainty and elegant in its original context. Perhaps for today’s tastes it seems simultaneously bland, hearty, and fattening.”

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour, blending the mixture. Heat broth. Slowly add it and the cream and milk to the flour mixture, stirring constantly. Cook for 5 minutes on low heat. Stir in other ingredients and cook for 2 minutes. Serve on toast or in pasty (pastry) shells. Serves 4.

(from “A History of Howard Johnson’s: How a Massachusetts Soda Fountain Became an American Icon”, by Mitchell Sammarco;The History Press, 2013)

The headnote says, “As a large restaurant chain, Howard Johnson’s relied on a commissary system of centralized kitchens. The clams would have been prepared as strips by the supplier, but here the whole clam body is fried. Individual recipes of this size were adaptations for family cooks, but nevertheless, the result is an authentic evocation of the chain’s most famous dish.”

Combine evaporated milk and whole milk, egg, vanilla, salt and pepper. Soak clams in the liquid and then dredge in combination of cake flour and cornmeal, fluffing them in the flour mixture for light but thorough coverage. Shake off excess flour and fry in oil. Serve with French- fried potatoes, tartar sauce, homemade rolls and butter. Serves 4.

Send us your requests

Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products are you having difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. (Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to

“Hot Chick” pop-up waffle house, Elm City Social, 266 College St., New Haven, 475-441-7436, now through April 30. Creative spins on chicken and waffles and Jack

Consiglio’s Murder Mystery Dinner — “Earth Based Crime” April 18, doors at 6 p.m., dinner and show at 7, Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, $55 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included).

Consiglio’s Cooking Demonstration and Dinner: April 25, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). Learn how to make center cut lamb over creamy orzo, calamari and arugula salad, homemade linguine with white clam sauce, chocolate raspberry panna cottai.

Worth Tasting Culinary Walking Tour: 10:45 a.m. April 28, the first guided four-hour culinary walking tour of the season of downtown New Haven. Reservations required, tickets at, 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $64.