How Delmonico's Helped Pioneer The Idea Of 'Farm-To-Table'

The iconic Delmonico's restaurant in New York City claims quite a few first endeavors in the culinary world. For starters, it's considered by some measures to be the oldest "proper" restaurant in the city, notwithstanding more casual delis, cafes, or taverns, explains Gothamist.

The original Delmonico brothers opened their establishment on Williams Street in 1837, becoming the first in America to use cloth tablecloths, according to amNewYork. That was just the beginning of Delmonico's influencer trends. NBC points out that diners experienced the first a la carte menu, with no predetermined eating time, as well as the first known business lunch and the first independent wine list.

The brothers and their chefs went on to create menu items and food concepts that still impact restaurants today, including the highly visible farm-to-table movement. Though it seems revolutionary to modern dining, the concept basically throws back to simpler times, before widespread refrigeration and huge corporate food suppliers. It made perfect sense in the 1800s to source food from local farmers — but in typical Delmonico style, the pioneering restauranteurs took things to a whole new level.

Betting the farm

Independence and risk-taking are hallmark traits of movers-and-shakers. The Delmonico brothers — John, Peter, and Lorenzo — showed both when purchasing 220 acres of farmland in present-day Brooklyn, explains Steak Perfection. Bypassing unreliability and low-quality food sourcing, they simply grew it themselves, inadvertently creating the farm-to-table concept now embraced by modern-day eaters desiring fresh, clean, local food with known chains of command.

The Delmonico farm opened new possibilities for the restaurant's chef, who created more diverse dishes using relatively unknown vegetables such as endives, artichokes, and tomatoes, per NBC. That, along with elegant service, fine wines, and signature steaks, led to another introductory concept: the first restaurant review ever printed by the New York Times, in 1859. This experimental mindset reportedly led to now-classic recipes, including eggs Benedict, lobster Newburg, and baked Alaska, per Gothamist.

Apparently, farm-to-table freshness had early admirers, based on the Illuminati who dined there. Notorious author Mark Twain turned 70 years old with a celebration at Delmonico's, accompanied by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and fellow writers Dorothy Canfield and Samuel E. Moffett, notes Gothamist. And a string of U.S. presidents, including the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt, have put fork-to-plate within the historic walls.

Executive Chef Billy Oliva from Delmonico's told Condé Nast Traveler in 2016 that each dish on the menu is a tasty history lesson. Fortunately, with the renewal of farm-to-table dining, Delmonico's history made its way to the present.