Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bookbinder's Restaurant

I've always had a fascination with the restaurants of bygone eras. I'm not sure why. My first recollection of "dining out" was at W.T. Grant's in Bayshore NY. My mother, sister and I would sometimes take the bus to Main Street in Bayshore to do window shopping. I'm not exactly sure what years those were. I would venture to guess it was in the early 60s. Main Street was a vibrant suburban block lined with thriving small businesses. The highlight of my day was when we got to Grant's. I can't remember what we were "allowed" to have, if anything. I wish I could but, I can't. I barely remember the awe I felt sitting at the counter. I'm thinking this has something to do with the feelings I still get when I think about places like Delmonico's, Sardi's, Trader Vic's or the 21 Club.

I remember my mother telling us stories of dancing and dining in her era. It all seemed so glamourous and exciting. Perhaps, those "talks" were the few times I actually saw a gleam in her eyes. My parents both grew up in lower Manhattan. Their selfless sacrifice was moving us kids out to the suburbs for a safer, healthier, "clean air" lifestyle. I don't think they really ever liked it though. They made due.

Bookbinder's was never on my list of notable restaurants to dine at. Naturally, I had heard of it. Unnaturally, I don't know how, why or where. Oh how I wish I did. But, this day isn't about me or my lack of memory jogging. It's about The Old Original Bookbinder's and the pictured Bookbinder's Cookbook by Charlotte Adams.

Established by Samuel Bookbinder in 1865, Bookbinder's legendary seafood restaurant was located in Philadelphia's historic Old City. It was host to countless Presidents, politicians, dignitaries and celebrities. According to their website, "When you dine at the restaurant there’s a chance you’ll be served at a table once taken by Diamond Jim Brady, Babe Ruth, Tennessee Williams, Teddy Roosevelt, Al Jolson, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers, Lillian Russell or Frank Sinatra." And much like its acclaimed guest, it has a rather illustrious history. Here is an excerpt from John Mariani's website Philadelphia Stories. John Mariani is the author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink and The Four Seasons: A History of America's Premier Restaurant plus other award-winning books.

The story of the two Bookbinders restaurants in Philly is more confusing than it is complex, but here goes: Back in the 1865 a lunch counter named Bookbinder's opened on Walnut Street, run by Dutch immigrant Samuel Bookbinder, whose family continued to run the place until 1935, when a family squabble send Samuel's grandson off to Fifteenth Street to open his own Bookbinder's. The keys to the original premises were handed over to the city's Jewish charities, but the place was repurchased in 1941 by the Taxin family, which still runs it today and claims they can trace the restaurant's lineage back to 1865.  So, up until a couple of years ago Old Original Bookbinder's on Walnut Street and Bookbinder's Seafood House on Fifteenth Street co-existed independent of one another.  Then both closed, for although business was already down, 9/11 really put the kibosh on them. The 15th Street restaurant never re-opened, but the Walnut Street property did, last February, still under the Taxin family aegis and care.

The restaurant's distinguished history is also reflected upon in The Old Original Bookbinder's Restaurant Cookbook by Charlotte Adams (1961).

"...Samuel Bookbinder established the restaurant in 1865, right after the Civil War. He put it in a most strategic place near the docks, whence came just caught fish and seafood and all sorts of choice foods from foreign lands. It was also handy for the sea captains, who became an important part of the clientele. There were many business establishments in the neighborhood which meant that diners came from insurance firms, banks, import houses and not the least important, from the farmers' markets in Dock Street nearby, men who know when food is fresh and good if anyone does...It is said that in the beginning days Sarah Bookbinder, wife of the founder, used to ring a bell to inform the neighborhood that lunch was ready. That bell still hangs inside the doorway of the restaurant..."

Because of its notorious legacy Bookbinder's became one of the country's most well-known seafood restaurants. For those who couldn't trek to Philadelphia, or any other home of famous eating places, cookbooks were published so they could try their hands at home in their own kitchens. The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places is one such book published in 1950. Just imagine serving your guests Lobster Newburg a la Bookbinders. How impressive:)

Lobster Newburg a la Bookbinder's
The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places

I chose this recipe for Lamaze Sauce from the Old Original Bookbinder's Cookbook for one reason. I like it:)

Lamaze Sauce
1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. chili sauce
1 c. India relish, well drained
1 tsp. prepared mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs. horseradish
1 drop Tabasco
1 hard cooked egg, chopped
Good grind of black pepper
1 pimiento, chopped
1 tbs. chopped chives
1 tsp. Escoffier Sauce Diable
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Refrigerate until needed. Makes about 3 cups sauce.

While we're on the subject of "great American restaurants, here's a recipe from another "famous" restaurant harvested from Entertaining with Style which was published by the makers of Benson & Hedges cigarettes in 1980.

Shashlik Caucasian-The Russian Tea Room
Ingredients 2 lb Boneless lamb; cut into 2 inch cubes 1 cup cooking oil 2 teaspoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon pepper 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon dill weed 1 Small clove garlic; minced 4 celery tops; coarsely chopped (1 cup) 3 tomatoes, quartered 2 onions, cut in wedges 2 green peppers; cut in squares Directions:

Place lamb in large bowl or shallow dish. In screw top jar combine oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, bay leaf, dill, garlic, and celery, pour over the lamb. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.

On each of 4 long skewers, thread lamb, tomato, onion, and green pepper; repeat, using 4 to 5 cubes of lamb on each skewer. Grill Shashlik over medium coals 12-16 minutes, turning once or, place shashlik on rack in shallow baking pan, 4 inches from broiler. Broil 10 minutes, turning once, for medium rare. Brush meat and vegetables with additional marinade, if desired. Serve on a bed of hot cooked rice. If desired, garnish with fresh dill. Makes 4 servings.

revised February 2013

Resources: 1. "Everybody Went to Bookie's" 2. Old Original Bookbinder's Snapper Soup


  1. I wanted to really take the time to read this, because I, too, love the stories about classic restaurants. I've always heard the name Bookbinder's, but knew none of the background. I'd also love to know more about Delmonico's so maybe you could put that on your calendar for the future! Recipes like Lobster Newburgh aren't prepared as much today, but were considered so elegant in their day.

  2. Hi T.W.
    I'm so glad to you have you drop by. My plan is to try to include some of those "classic" restaurants on the calendar and the blog. I did explore Delmonico's back in December. It's called Meet Me at Del's. The link is under the label Restaurants.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise