Appetite City

A Culinary History of New York

William Grimes

North Point Press

New York is the greatest restaurant city the world has ever seen.

In Appetite City, the former New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes leads us on a grand historical tour of New York’s dining culture. Beginning with the era when simple chophouses and oyster bars dominated the culinary scene, he charts the city’s transformation into the world restaurant capital it is today. Appetite City takes us on a unique and delectable journey, from the days when oysters and turtle were the most popular ingredients in New York cuisine, through the era of the fifty-cent French and Italian table d’hôtes beloved of American “Bohemians,” to the birth of Times Square—where food and entertainment formed a partnership that has survived to this day.

Enhancing his tale with more than one hundred photographs, rare menus, menu cards, and other curios and illustrations (many never before seen), Grimes vividly describes the dining styles, dishes, and restaurants succeeding one another in an unfolding historical panorama: the deluxe ice cream parlors of the 1850s, the boisterous beef-and-beans joints along Newspaper Row in the 1890s, the assembly-line experiment of the Automat, the daring international restaurants of the 1939 World’s Fair, and the surging multicultural city of today. By encompassing renowned establishments such as Delmonico’s and Le Pavillon as well as the Bowery restaurants where a meal cost a penny, he reveals the ways in which the restaurant scene mirrored the larger forces shaping New York, giving us a deliciously original account of the history of America’s greatest city.

Rich with incident, anecdote, and unforgettable personalities, Appetite City offers the dedicated food lover or the casual diner an irresistible menu of the city’s most savory moments.


Read an Excerpt


The City Without a Restaurant

In the late 1820s, a Columbia College student by the name of Sam Ward often stepped into a small café in lower Manhattan for a bite to eat. Ward, the son of a prominent banker, would later achieve fame as a big political fixer in Washington and eventually go out in a blaze of scandal. This was no mean feat in the lax moral atmosphere of the Gilded Age, but Ward had great flair.

He also had, even as a young man, a highly developed taste for the finer things in life. Unfortunately, the finer things were in short supply in the New York of his




  • William Grimes on "The Leonard Lopate Show"

    Author of Appetite City, William Grimes, is interviewed by Leonard Lopate on WNYC.

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Praise for Appetite City

Praise for Appetite City:

“The latest book [from William Grimes] is a chronicle of New York’s transformation from a Dutch village at the edge of the wilderness to what he sees as the most diverse restaurant city in the world . . . As for today’s ‘era of the entrepreneurial superchefs,’ this vivid and vastly entertaining history positions it as the latest but hardly the final chapter in the culinary saga of the city with the bottomless appetite.” —Dawn Drzal, The New York Times

“If H. G. Wells had decided to send his Time Traveler to report on the early restaurants of New York, I doubt he could have provided us a much better description of the city’s rich culinary history than the one William Grimes has just written. Grimes, a longtime food writer for The New York Times . . . looks back, tracing [New York’s] bewildering maze of food cultures and traditions, from its early markets and oyster bars to today’s molecular-gastronomy-influenced restaurants . . . he touches on an amazing breadth of subjects—beautifully, thoroughly, and with a depth of research . . . Join the author on his time-traveling journey through New York’s rise as an appetite city, and you will be richer for the experience.”—Julie Gunlock, National Review

“[New York] is not the most important restaurant city in the world, one could argue, but that’s not the right argument, Grimes suggests. He walks us from restaurant-free streets of the early 1900s to open kitchens of 2004, and through a brisk, fun study of how a culinary afterthought became the most complex and irritating restaurant city on the planet.” —Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

“In his fascinating Appetite City, William Grimes shows us how New York became, arguably, the best food city in the world. This is a wonderful book!” —Jacques Pépin, author of The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

Appetite City, as all books on New York should be, is rich in social conflict and fun. The paradox makes for great food history.” —Mark Kurlansky, author of The Big Oyster and The Food of a Younger Land

“Elegantly written and meticulously researched, Appetite City is a must-read for anyone who thinks they already know everything there is to know about the New York restaurant world.” —Tom Colicchio, chef/owner, Craft Restaurants

“William Grimes is a certified expert on New York’s culinary world. I can’t think of another person who could have achieved what he has in this engrossing and enlightening book.” —Bobby Flay, executive chef, Mesa Grill

“William Grimes has written a masterful and engrossing culinary history of New York. It’s a veritable feast of anecdotes that will satiate foodies for years to come.” —Drew Nieporent, restaurateur (Corton, Tribeca Grill, Nobu, and Centrico)

Appetite City is a rollicking tale of big spenders, outsized appetites, and the way high rollers in New York made spectacles of themselves. Telling a story of celebrity restaurateurs, local delicacies, and New York’s rapidly changing taste and complex social rituals, Grimes has made an important contribution to the social history of New York.” —Eric Homberger, author of The Historical Atlas of New York City

“New York’s role as a fancy food capital began in the early 1800s as a pastry shop near the foot of Manhattan, run by two brothers—Giovanni and Pietro Delmonico from Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland . . . Grimes’ culinary history intensively covers eating and eateries in the most recent half of the city’s 400-year existence.” —Carl Hartman, Associated Press
"Former New York Times restaurant critic (1999–2003) Grimes chronicles New York City's colorful culinary history from the early 1800s to the present. He notes the first takeout restaurant, the Eastern Coffee House, which advertised in the New York Post in 1813, and he describes the abundant seafood surrounding the city—huge Hudson River sturgeon and oysters as large as a dinner plate in the bays of Staten Island that were a staple of working-class diets. Tracing the migration of restaurants northward on Manhattan as the population moved, Grimes explains how Italian food arrived in the 1880s with the wave of Italian immigrants. The modern coffee shop appeared in the early 1900s. Photos accompany stories of the owners or developers of such classic New York restaurants as Schrafft's, the Horn and Hardart Automat, the 21 Club, Longchamps, and, more recently, Windows on the World and the Russian Tea Room. Footnotes underscore the thorough research completed for this well-written book. VERDICT: New Yorkers, readers who enjoyed Mark Kurlanksy's The Big Oyster, and those interested in food, cooking, and restaurants will enjoy this fascinating history."—Christine Bulson, Library Journal
"'Paris has better French restaurants, Madrid has better Spanish restaurants, and Tokyo has better Japanese restaurants,' Grimes concedes, but 'no city... offers as many national cooking styles, at all price ranges, as New York does.' It wasn't always this way. As Grimes points out, it wasn't until the early 19th century that Manhattan and Brooklyn's culinary offerings extended beyond boardinghouse and tavern. His lively, profusely illustrated history veers in one fascinating direction after another, from the proliferation of oyster houses in the 1800s to the original recipe for chop suey. Grimes hits all the obvious high points—Delmonico's, the Automat, Le Pavillion, etc.—but also puts a spotlight on forgotten venues like Forum of the Twelve Caesars, an outsized theme restaurant from the same company that owned the Four Seasons. He gets personal in the final chapter, describing the scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s from his front-line perspective as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. (He has since moved on to the book review desk.) All the material is so fascinating that you'll wish every chapter was at least twice as long, but it's hard to imagine a more entertaining introduction to the subject."— Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • William Grimes

  • William Grimes was the restaurant critic for The New York Times from 1999 to 2003. He is the author of Straight Up or On the Rocks (NPP, 2001) and My Fine Feathered Friend (NPP, 2002), and the coauthor of The New York Times Guide to New York City Restaurants 2004.



Available Formats and Book Details

Appetite City

A Culinary History of New York

William Grimes



North Point Press