The Delmonico Steak

New York's most famous steak

A perfectly cooked Delmonico steak
Derrick Riches

In 1827 the Delmonico brothers opened the first modern restaurant in the United States. It was the first place you could go and order what you wanted instead of what was prepared that day. What started out as a small café, with the novelty of serving what the customers wanted, quickly grew into a full-service restaurant that became the place to eat in New York. Abraham Lincoln dined there and was particularly fond of the Delmonico Potatoes.

Which Cut? Somewhere around 1850 steak was added to the restaurant's menu. There is some controversy as to what cut of steak this was. Over the years, a total of nine different cuts have come to be known as a Delmonico steak. Now, while some people insist that it is a top sirloin, if you go to a well-educated butcher and order a Delmonico steak you are probably going to get a rib-eye steak. Of course, most people will tell you that the rib-eye is the perfect blend of flavor and tenderness, and therefore just about the best steak you can get.

Regardless of the cut of the Delmonico steak, if you ordered one in the late nineteenth century, you would get a large and flavorful cut of meat. The recipe for the Delmonico steak was very simple and delicious. The steak was lightly seasoned with salt, basted with melted butter and grilled over a live fire. You would typically find it served up with a thin, clear gravy and a good helping of potatoes. This was the perfect restaurant steak.

Folklore: For many years, the Delmonico steak was item 86 on the menu. Folklore suggests, that the expression "86’d" was invented by the chef at Delmonico's to let the staff know that there were no more steaks to cook that day.

Ultimately, there were several Delmonico's Restaurants, but the last of them closed down in 1923. Any restaurant (or Hotel) found with that name today isn't truly authentic, just imitations of the original. The ultimate cause of Delmonico's downfall was prohibition. People were unwilling to sit through a long formal dinner without alcohol, so the final Delmonico Restaurant closed its doors unable to convince people that bottled mineral water was good enough to drink with such a fine steak.