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These 10 groundbreaking restaurants changed how we dine

November 24, 2016 at 6:20 PM EST
Can you imagine life before restaurants? Or brunch? Or convenient roadside dining? In his new book, "Ten Restaurants That Changed America," historian Paul Freedman chronicles the pioneering establishments that changed American food. Economics correspondent Paul Solman takes a tour with Freedman.
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JOHN YANG:  Now, on this Thanksgiving day, we devote the rest of our broadcast to food, and a little wine.  First, economics correspondent Paul Solman explores the histories of some of this country`s most iconic restaurants, and how they reflected the cultural, social and economic development of their times.
PAUL SOLMAN:  In the heart of Harlem, Sylvia`s, where for 50-plus years, presidents and pop stars, tourists and locals have feasted on down home cooking.
TREN`NESS WOODS-BLACK, Sylvia’s: What we serve here at Sylvia`s is authentic, soul-food cuisine, rich in heritage that goes back over five generations.
PAUL SOLMAN:  Tren`ness Woods-Black is a granddaughter of the late Sylvia Woods from South Carolina.
TREN`NESS WOODS-BLACK:  So, you`re going to get the original farm to table, which is what soul food is.
PAUL FREEDMAN, Yale University:  You can`t write a book about American food without giving a big place to African American cuisine, which is arguably what American cuisine is at heart.
PAUL SOLMAN:  Medieval historian Paul freedman, who turned an academic fascination with Middle Ages cuisine into a new career in his middle ages, chronicling American food.  His new book, “Ten Restaurants That Changed America,” begins at Delmonico`s in New York`s financial district, the new nation`s first real restaurant.
PAUL FREEDMAN:  By real, I mean a place that offered a choice.  A large menu, and a fairly wide range of times when the place was open instead of saying we serve at 1:00, take it or leave it.
PAUL SOLMAN: What fascinated me, as a money buff, was how our restaurants track our economic growth.
So, when Delmonico`s opens in the 1830s, that`s the beginning of what we now know as the American economy?
PAUL FREEDMAN: It coincides with an America of railroads, of rapid expansion to the West, of industrialization and of increasing contact with the rest of the world.  It`s not a place for people who fancy themselves as squires or aristocrats.  It`s a place for enterprising people.
PAUL SOLMAN: But they are wealthy.
PAUL FREEDMAN: Definitely.
PAUL SOLMAN: The new money wanted food that was fancy French, with new world twists.  Delmonico`s steak, a rib-eye —
PAUL FREEDMAN: They invented Lobster Newburg.  They invented Baked Alaska.
PAUL SOLMAN: They even invented brunch.
TV HOST:  Delmonico`s is credited with creating this brunch dish — Erin.
CONTESTANT:  What is Eggs Benedict?
TV HOST:  Good.
PAUL SOLMAN: This was the place to meet and eat, well into the 20th century.
MALE:  We`re going to Delmonico`s for supper, won`t you join us?
MALE:  What will it be tonight, Delmonico`s or the Plaza?
MALE:  Lunch at Delmonico`s!
PAUL FREEDMAN: And men and women would show up together at night, but at lunch, it would be men only.
PAUL SOLMAN: Gender exclusivity, which, at the turn of the 20th century, invited a second of freedman`s top ten to enter the fray and helped change America`s expanding economy: Schrafft`s.
I remember going to Schrafft`s in the `50s for the sundaes, I believe.  The ice cream sundaes.  That was a real treat.
PAUL FREEDMAN: I too remember going there with my grandmother.  It`s one of the first restaurants to cater to women, not just by providing a safe atmosphere, but by providing the kind of food that women were thought to like to eat — light food followed by very rich desserts.
PAUL SOLMAN: But now when Schrafft`s starts in 1900, what does that say about what`s happening in the American economy?
PAUL FREEDMAN: We see the rise of a middle middle class of the sort that we know.  They want a nice experience.  They want food that is relatively simple or not particularly French.
PAUL SOLMAN: A democratized middle class.
PAUL FREEDMAN: Yes, exactly.  And so the restaurant options are often for couples, you have to wait for Howard Johnson`s and roadside restaurants for children really to be featured.
PAUL SOLMAN: Number three: Howard Johnson`s, now nearly extinct, with just one upstate New York outpost for fried clams and Frankforts, down from a thousand such orange-and-blue emporia in its mid-20th-century heyday.
PAUL FREEDMAN: In the 1920s, the American dream was not to own a house, the American dream was to own a car and to drive with your family around to look at the countryside.
PAUL SOLMAN: Sunday drives.
PAUL FREEDMAN: Sunday drives.  Howard Deering Johnson developed a restaurant concept that offered food particularly by the side of the new highways that were opening up for leisure driving.
PAUL SOLMAN: So the advent and success of Howard Johnson`s represents a further democratization of the American economy?
PAUL FREEDMAN: Yes, and it may be an early symbol of the hollowing out of the middle level.
PAUL SOLMAN: With HoJo`s decline tracking growing inequality.
PAUL FREEDMAN: Because on the one hand you would have very democratic places like McDonald`s.  And on the other hand you have more and more fancy restaurants.
PAUL SOLMAN: Hoity-toity boites like change agent number four, Le Pavillon, where chef and owner Henri Soule sat A-listers up front, to see and be seen.
PAUL FREEDMAN: So lots of other places like La Caravelle, La Grenouille, all of them begin with Le and La, imitated this pattern.
PAUL SOLMAN: Or number five, The Four Seasons, birthplace of seasonal menus and the modern power lunch in an increasingly financialized economy.
PAUL FREEDMAN: When it started to have these power lunches it was more media people.  Advertising, TV, book publishing.
PAUL SOLMAN: That`s the `60s and `70s.
PAUL FREEDMAN: `60s and `70s.  I asked one of the owners if that was still true, if there were still literary agents and authors, and he looked at me pityingly.  He looked at me as if I had asked to send a telegram or where the nearest automat was.
PAUL SOLMAN: Because it had become high end finance.
PAUL FREEDMAN: It`s finance and real estate.  Serious money.
PAUL SOLMAN:  There`s one big apple restaurant to go: number six, Mamma Leone`s.
PAUL FREEDMAN: People say, well how can you have Italian food in the United States represented by a place that was so mass market, so touristy.  That`s part of the story of food in the United States.  Mamma Leone`s was a pioneer of the spectacle restaurant.  And it introduced a lot of people to Italian food.
PAUL SOLMAN: Marking the true globalization of the American economy.
And that was also manifest on the West Coast.  Thus, number seven, The Mandarin in San Francisco, where in 1961 chef-owner Cecilia Chang introduced people to Chinese food north and west of Cantonese.
PAUL FREEDMAN: Not just one province of southern China, as had been the case with Chinese food up to that time.
PAUL SOLMAN: OK, we`ve reached 1971 and Freedman`s restaurant number eight.  America was now rich enough to start caring about something new in its food — how fresh it was; how safe.  Thus, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, where chef-owner Alice Waters was the change agent…
PAUL FREEDMAN: Changing the way many, many people eat.  It`s influenced what public schools serve.  It`s influenced what Walmart and Target have available in their produce sections.  It`s influenced restaurants pretty far down the price food chain.
PAUL SOLMAN:  Number nine?  Antoine`s of New Orleans, owned and run by the same family since 1840.  An example of regional American cuisine: in this case.  Creole.
CARTOON CHARACTER:  You can`t beat a good old Back-bay Bayou Bunny Bordelais, a la Antoine.
PAUL SOLMAN: America as melting pot.
CARTOON CHARACTER:  ZE Antoine of New Orleans?
CARTOON CHARACTER:  I don`t mean Antoine of Flatbush!
PAUL FREEDMAN: Regional food is part of the heritage of America and it`s something that`s being brought back, particularly Southern food.
PAUL SOLMAN: Which brings us back to number 10, Sylvia`s in Harlem, where the Woods family carries on old traditions, and new ones, like the timely Thanksgiving take-home package for an ever busier America.
TREN`NESS WOODS-BLACK:  You`ve got turkey, you have dressing, you have collard greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, sweet potato pie, you have everything that you need that in the end, you can take a little flour and just like, put it on your face to make you look like a Thanksgiving dinner superstar.
PAUL SOLMAN: Without all the effort.  Time is money, wrote Ben Franklin in 1748, which is a key reason Americans have been eating out, ever since.
Reporting from New York, economics correspondent Paul Solman, thoroughly sated.
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