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.