Lunching at Sardi’s

While contemplating the writing of this blog entry, I was reminded of (actor/comedian) Steve Martin’s clever play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile (1993).  I saw the play twice, back in the ’90s at the magnificent Fox Theater in St. Louis, MO.  The play imagines “what if” the two genius’ Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, just before their respective major career break-throughs, had met at a small cafe in Paris.  So too this blog entry imagines “what if,” and was inspired by Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers and her Vincent Price Treasury Cookalong (did you know Vincent Price was born in St. Louis?).

This cook-along is a 50th anniversary celebration of Mary and Vincent Price‘s fabulous cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965).  The book is truly a treasure, with well over 400 pages and weighing in at about 4 pounds.  It was difficult (and expensive…often around $300) to find an original copy, but has now been rereleased (at a much more comfortable price).  Vincent, as it turns out, was a masterful chef and the book is filled with wonderful recipes from around the world.  He and his wife Mary collected recipes from their favorite restaurants, and then eloquently adapted them for the home cook.  Mr. Price was a good friend of Vincent Sardi, Sr., owner of New York City’s theater district hotspot, Sardi’s restaurant…and many of Price’s recipes were adapted for the “continental cuisine” menu.  Sardi’s was (and is) the popular choice for opening parties and pre- or post-theater dining.

Welcome to the Theater from the Broadway musical Applause as performed by Lauren Bacall in 1970.  The play was an adaptation of Bette Davis’ film All About Eve.  In this song, Lauren Bacall talks about the grittier side of being a Broadway theater performer.

Sardi’s was opened in 1927 by Vincent Sardi, Sr. at 234 W. 44th Street (between Broadway and 8th Ave. in the theater district of Manhattan, at the same location as it remains today).  As a gimmick to improve business, Vince hired Russian-born cartoonist Alex Gard to draw caricatures of all the famous Broadway celebrities.  In exchange, Gard was given one free meal, every day.  Popularity of the eatery soared, and when Vince Sardi, Jr. took over operations in 1947, he offered to renegotiate Gard’s contract, paying him for his artistic endeavors.  Gard refused, sticking to the 14451896888761445189685046original agreement he had stuck with Vince Jr.’s father 20 years previous (and he continued to eat at Sardi’s every day until his death).  He produced over 700 drawings from 1927 to 1948.

Three more artists followed Gard, and the caricatures now number in the thousands, lining every wall and cementing Sardi’s fame in Broadway history.

Sardi’s was always known to be a friend of the struggling actor (still to this day offering 1/2 price meals to theater industry people on Wednesdays).  It also became the most popular place to hold opening night parties for Broadway shows.

 

James Dean celebrated both See the Jaguar and The Immoralist there.  Dean’s guest for See the Jaguar (Dec 3, 1952) was girlfriend Dizzy Sheridan (later known as Liz Sheridan who played Jerry Seinfeld’s mother on the hit TV series from 1990-98).  The play received horrible reviews, but Dean’s performance was highly praised.  Jim enthusiastically circulated at the party, celebrating his Broadway debut…much to the annoyance of Sheridan for his lack of attention.  Their relationship ended soon after.

Opening night for The Immoralist was on Jim’s 23rd birthday, February 8th, 1954.  His guests were girlfriend Barbara Glenn and his Uncle Marcus and Aunt Ortense Winslow.  Dean showed up in torn blue jeans and a t-shirt.  He was turned away at the door.  Jim hopped on his motorcycle, roaring back to his apartment on 68th Street, changing into a suit and tie, and then rushed back to the party.  He was uncomfortable and it was a tense evening.   Although his performance received high critical reviews, Dean was unhappy with the play and tendered his resignation (some say that same night).  Elia Kazan had just cast him in East of Eden and he would soon leave for Hollywood.

 

Vincent Price accumulated more than 199 TV and film credits and 13 Broadway credits throughout his career.  Although he’s most widely remembered for his roles in horror films like House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958), The House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Abominimal Dr. Phibes (1971), and Edward Scissorhands (1990), Vincent was also an avid art collector/dealer, founded the Vincent Price Museum of Art in California, and co-wrote several cookbooks, including A Treasury of Great Recipes with his wife Mary.

 

Thriller (1982, from the album of the same name) by Michael Jackson, features the iconic voice-over from Vincent Price.  (I challenge you not to dance in your chair while listening, shuffle around the office doing zombie choreography, or smile at the sound of Vincent’s maniacal laugh in the last bars of the song.)

14451874983521445187502012My cook-along focuses on Vincent’s recipes from Sardi’s.  WHAT IF…James Dean and Vincent Price had brunched at Sardi’s?  (I guess I’m not the first to wonder…check out this amusing skit from Saturday Night Live parodying Vincent Price and James Dean in a “Vincent Price’s Christmas Special.”)

To set the theme for the party, I used red draping and a print of the Alex Gard caricature of Vincent.  It was a cozy, intimate affair with 4 adults and 1 cute kid.  The guests were each presented with their own frame, and told they needed to draw a caricature of one of the other guests as “payment” for the meal (while we told stories and conversed about Alex Gard, Sardi’s restaurant, James Dean and Vincent Price).  I knew I had a talented bunch there, but everyone really seemed to enjoy the challenge…and the results were top notch!  Bloody Mary’s (prepared to Vincent’s specifications from the Treasury) and Vincent’s Cheese Knots (also from the Treasury) fueled 0ur artistic endeavors.   The Cheese Knots were a hit with everyone…cheesy, with a hint of spicy, terribly cute looking, and rather simple to prepare!  (This recipe makes a large quantity…I only used half the dough for the number of guests attending, refrigerating the other half for later use.  Alex ultimately used it for a pizza-style dough…it was good.)  You can click on any of the photos to see them larger.1445187521940

 

 

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VINCENT PRICE’S CHEESE KNOTS

INGREDIENTS:

8 c – all purpose flour

3 T – double acting baking powder

1 T – salt

2 c – shortening (I used a solid corn oil shortening)

3 c – milk

2 c – Cheddar cheese, shredded ( I used a mix of Cheddar and smoked Provolone)

– ground Cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS:

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After our art viewing, came the first course…Sardi’s Asparagus Milanese (a recipe of Vincent’s that was, and still is, on the menu at Sardi’s.  The recipe can be found in both A Treasury of Great Recipes and my Recipes For Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean).  When planning this menu, I didn’t consider that asparagus isn’t in season here in Greece (and therefore, impossible to find).  A rare mistake, since freshness is always a priority at mealtime here, but it was too late to change my plan, so canned white asparagus substituted for the fresh green.  The flavors were nice, even if the vibrant colors were lacking.  The asparagus is sauteed in olive oil until it receives a nice char, seasoned with salt and pepper, and topped with a “sunny-side up” egg fried in butter, Parmesan shavings, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  (Personally, I prefer my egg poached for this dish…when texture and egg and lemon flavors combine, it reminds me of a luxurious, rich, creamy hollandaise sauce.)

 

14451876407391445187650911This was to be followed by Sardi’s (and Vincent’s) wonderful Shrimp in Garlic Sauce.  There was a last minute change of plans and we served Alex’s version of Shrimp Dijon.  The shrimp were fresh and he used generous amounts of chopped garlic and fresh parsley with white wine and then drizzled in butter.  The dish is topped in bread crumbs and baked in a moderate oven until golden delicious.  I prepared a buttery parslied rice to go with it.  The result was a rich, savory, and satisfying dish that tasted of elegance and white linen tablecloths, but didn’t leave you over-full.  It was another crowd pleaser!  (One exception being the cute kid pictured above…he’s a bit of a particular eater.  Sardi’s serves a fantastic hamburger, and hamburger was his choice.)  Knowing this cute kid and his dining prefernces…I had prepared Sardi’s Sauce for Hamburgers the evening before (we had burgers for our evening meal).  This sauce is fantastic!

SARDI’S SAUCE FOR HAMBURGERS

To make the sauce, heat 1/2 c butter with 2 T each of mustard, Lee & Perrins sauce, A-1 sauce, and 1/4 c chili sauce.  Whisk together then drench the burgers, drench the buns, drench the kid!  It’s DELICIOUS!  Make a double, triple, or quadriple batch for your next cookout!  (The homemade veggie burgers pictured here were actually from our dinner the night before, drenched in sauce and topped with cheese, chopped pickles, and onions.)144518756824714451875749261445187583118

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The star-studded afternoon affair was crowned with Sardi’s New York-style Cheesecake (from the Recipes for Rebels cookbook).  It was an exquisitely creamy and decadent dessert, balancing sweetness with tart cherries…an elegant and tasty celebration for the end of our festivities.  The slow cooling time specified at the end of the recipe helps to prevent cracking (a common problem with baking cheesecakes).  It’s an easy recipe with dependable results, sure to garner rave reviews from all the critics!

 

SARDI’S NEW YORK-STYLE CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS:

CRUST

15 – graham crackers, crushed fine (I can’t get graham cracker in Greece, so I used a chocolate wafer instead)

2 T – unsalted butter, melted

FILLING

16 oz – cream cheese

1 1/2 c – bakers sugar (I almost always use raw sugar…the results were fine)

3/4 c – whole milk

4 – eggs

1 c – sour cream (another thing I can’t get in Greece.  I either have to make it or substitute with thick Greek yogurt)

1 T – vanilla extract

1/4 c – cake flour

1 t – lemon zest

DIRECTIONS:

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Our Sardi’s brunch was a hit.  Jimmy and Vincent would have had a ball!  All of our talented guests deserved Tony Awards (the Tony’s were actually conceived at Sardi’s in 1946.  It was the location of the nomination announcements for many years after) and at the end of the day, I’d say they’re all winners!

This was my entry to the Vincent Price Treasury Cook-Along at SilverScreenSuppers.com, you can enter too (before midnight on November 7th) and win fabulous prizes!  Check out the contest and many great Vincent Price recipes HERE.

Look for Victoria Price (daughter of Mary and Vincent) at events she’s doing around the US, UK, Ireland, and Canada in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary rerelease of A Treasury of Great Recipes.  You can find her schedule, blogging, wines and more at cookingvincent.com.

 

 

7 Comments

  1. we had a lot of fun!! thanks greg thanks alex!! we still have the drawings!!!!

  2. Another wonderful tale! And several recipes that must be tried! Especially the cheese twists! Such simple ingredients but such a beautiful presentation! I like the idea of trying some of your needed substitutions even. Chocolate cookie crust sounds yummy to me and I love Greek yogurt in anything!

    • Thanks Sheryl! YUP…the Cheese Knots are a MUST…they’re terribly cute, and tasty TOO! We can thank Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers for teaching us those. And yes, the Greek yogurt adds a beautiful “twang” to the cheesecake recipe (as it does to many things…I love it on Mexican, cheese blintzs, egg dishes, etc… instead of the sour cream).

      • P.S….the Sardi’s Sauce for Hamburgers (or veggieburgers) recipe kind of gets lost in the middle of the blog, but I HIGHLY recommend it! Kayte and Mark will love it!

  3. Greg, this is WONDERFUL! I so love the idea of your guests drawing caricatures of each other as “payment” for their meal, how fabulous! Thanks for being part of the #TreasuryCookalong and thanks for sharing all your in-depth knowledge about Sardi’s!

    What a fabulous concept – Vincent Price and James Dean having brunch together. And why not?!

    Lovely, lovely, lovely – thank you!

    Jenny x

    • Jenny, Thanks so much for hosting the #TreasuryCookalong! I hope you get many, many participants, because it was SO MUCH FUN to do! I look forward to hearing about the many activities you and Victoria Price have planned in November!

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