On a hot summer night in the mid-nineties, Joe DiMaggio and Grace Jones supped — separately, mind you — at a tony little spot on New York’s Upper East Side. And every soul within gawking distance noticed very little else. Diners, refusing to take their eyes off the celebrities, practically pronged themselves in the face while twirling their pastas. Drooling toward their waiters they ordered their tiramisus with unhinged jaws; their eyes glued to Joltin’ Joe and the Amazonian disco queen, then they zombied toward the door mouthing to each other, “Oh-My-God.”
Plenty of places in New York serve up culinary swellness, but the ones that attract the celebrities enter into the history books, gossip rags, and local yore. Even the most insipid meals can be iced over with a simple, “What the hell do you know? If it’s good enough for Joyce DeWitt, by God, it’s good enough for our family. You don’t know shit about food!” In some cases, like those listed below, the star’s star of approval is actually well warranted.
1. President John F. Kennedy’s Soup
A few hours prior to being breathily Happy Birthday’d by Marilyn Monroe, President Kennedy celebrated his special day at New York’s The Four Seasons Restaurant. The president was so busy shaking hands with the other 400 guests, however, he was unable sit and enjoy his medallions of beef glazed in Madeira (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine), so at one point he was whisked away into a private room where he was able to kick back a beer and tuck into a bowl of his favorite cream of asparagus soup.
You can still enjoy the presidential appetizer — now topped with morels — in the same sumptuously austere setting that hasn’t changed since that night in 1962. (The Four Seasons Restaurant – 99 East 52nd Street between Park and Lexington avenues)
2. Katherine Hepburn’s Chocolates
Established in 1943, Mondel’s Chocolates wouldn’t see its most ardent, and famous, fan for nearly forty years on. Once Ms.Hepburn did first show up in 1981, however, she would continue to stock up on her favorite dark chocolates religiously until a year before she died. On the twelfth of every month, the actress’s driver would pull up to the small shop on upper Broadway, and the star would slip in and pick up her standing order of “turtles, almond bark, and break-up,” calling it the “best in the world.” (Mondel’s Chocolates – 2913 Broadway at 114th Street)
3. Frank Sinatra’s Clams
Saying “Patsy’s” to a New Yorker is like a throwing down of the gauntlet to see who can say it first: “Oh, yeah, Sinatra’s favorite place.” Celebrating its sixty-eighth year in business, this place has long been heralding the fact that it’s where ol’ Blue Eyes scarfed down his favorite Clams Posillipo (clams in tomato broth), which the restaurant still prepares today using the same recipe it always has. (Patsy’s Italian Restaurant – 236 West 56th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues)
4. Woody Allen’s Sandwich
Barney Greengrass is synonymous with Woody Allen pictures — yet the Upper West Side institution was only featured in one of his films: Deconstructing Harry. But there’s another reason why the two are so mentally fused in New York City’s psyche; that’s because this century-old institution is the culinary embodiment of New York’s favorite hyper-nebbish mascot. For almost thirty years, Mr. Allen has been ordering the sturgeon on rye with butter and onions, but don’t think for a second you’ll see him pick it up; his sandwich gets whisked across the park to his home on Fifth Avenue. (Barney Greengrass – 541 Amsterdam Avenue between 86th and 87th streets)
5. Lauren Bacall’s Burger
For forty-six years Betty Bacall has been enjoying her burger (medium, please) with fries at Joe Allen Restaurant in the Theater District (where she was one of the original investors). Even when she starred in the 1970 Broadway musical Applause she had the title song (sung by Bonnie Franklin) performed on a stage set of the famous eatery. (Joe Allen Restaurant – 326 West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues)
“Good taste is easy to recognize,” and most Joe Allen patrons rarely stray from their favorite dishes (Champagne and cheeseburgers for this regular for nearly two decades). Even the slightest alteration to the mise-en-scène is enough to send half the regulars wandering off into that weird garden area and crying themselves to sleep — so imagine what happens when your favorite dish is no longer on the menu? That’s exactly what happened to Rosie O’Donnell. The following day, she went on the air to express her displeasure that her grilled chicken sandwich with Cajun mayonnaise had been swiped from the menu. The restaurant became instantly inundated with hundreds of calls — the outrage lasting straight through to the following day when, Joe Allen, having acquiesced, agreed to return the talk show host’s favorite food to the menu. And that’s the real power of celebrity.