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The Birthplaces of 10 Great American Foods

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We've compiled a list of all the foods you love, and all the places you need to thank for them.

1. THE HAMBURGER

Location: Louis' Lunch, New Haven, Connecticut

There are competing claims for the coveted "Inventor of the Hamburger" title, but according to Louis' Lunch (and the Library of Congress, for that matter), this small New Haven restaurant takes the prize. The story goes something like this: One day in 1900, a rushed businessman asked owner Louis Lassen for something quick that he could eat on the run. Lassen cooked up a beef patty, put it between some bread, and sent the man on his way. Pretty modest beginnings for arguably the most popular sandwich of all-time, huh? If you visit Louis' today, you'll find that not much has changed. The Lassen family still owns and operates the restaurant, the burgers are still cooked in ancient gas stoves, and, just like then, there is absolutely no ketchup allowed.

2. THE FRIED TWINKIE

Location: The ChipShop, Brooklyn, New York

Iris, Flickr // CC BY ND-2.0

Sometimes what counts isn't being the inventor, it's being the innovator. Take the fried Twinkie, for example. The Twinkie—in all its indestructible glory—has been around for ages, but when ChipShop owner Christopher Sell had the brilliant idea to freeze the snack, dip it in batter, and deep-fry it, the Twinkie took gluttony to new heights. Even The New York Times raved about how "something magical" happens when you taste the deep-fried Twinkie's "luscious vanilla flavor." Sell, who was trained in classical French cuisine, didn't start with the Twinkie, though. In his native England, he fried up everything from M&M's to Mars bars.

3. ROOT BEER FLOAT

Location: Myers Avenue Red Soda Co., Cripple Creek, Colorado

If you thought what happened up on Cripple Creek only happened in song, you're sorely mistaken. In August of 1893, a failed gold-miner-turned-soda-company-owner named Frank J. Wisner was drinking a bottle of his Myers Avenue Red root beer while looking up at Cow Mountain. Just then, a full moon illuminated the snowcap on the otherwise black mountain, and Wisner had a brilliant idea—float a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass of his root beer. The new drink was christened the "black cow" and became an instant classic. Today, of course, most of us call it a root beer float.

4. CORN DOGS

Location: Cozy Dog Drive In, Springfield, Illinois

In 1946, Ed Waldmire, Jr. revolutionized the stick-meat world when he debuted the Cozy Dog—the first corn dog on a stick. At first, he wanted to call his creation the "Crusty Cur," but his wife convinced him to change the name to "Cozy Dog." She felt people wouldn't want to eat something described as "crusty." Good call, Mrs. Waldmire. Shortly after the Cozy Dog's inception, the Cozy Dog Drive In opened alongside old Route 66 and has been serving up corn dogs ever since.

5. THE PIZZERIA

Location: Lombardi's, New York City

Pizza has existed in one form or another for a long time, but America got her first true pizzeria when Gennaro Lombardi opened up a small grocery store in NYC's Little Italy. An employee named Anthony "Totonno" Pero started selling pizzas out of the back, and in no time, Lombardi's was concentrating on its burgeoning pizza business instead of plain old groceries. In 1905, the establishment was licensed as a pizzeria, and it's stayed that way ever since. Well, almost. The original restaurant closed in 1984 but reopened down the street 10 years later. On its 100th anniversary in 2005, Lombardi's decided to offer its pizza for the same price it'd been sold for in 1905—5 cents a pie. Needless to say, the line wrapped around the block.

6. THE FAT DARRELL

Location: R.U. Hungry, New Brunswick, N.J.

You may not know what the Fat Darrell is, but when you hear what it contains, you'll understand why it's truly a work of inspired genius. Since 1979, Rutgers University has played host to a collection of mobile food vans collectively known as the "Grease Trucks." Originally, they served a sandwich called the Fat Cat, which contained two cheeseburger patties, French fries, lettuce, tomato, and onions. Then one night in 1997, a hungry (and broke) student named Darrell W. Butler convinced one of the vendors to put chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, French fries, and marinara sauce on a sandwich. Strangely, the concoction sounded so appetizing that the next 10 people in line ordered it, and the Fat Darrell became a mainstay at the Grease Trucks. Hey, not any old sandwich gets to be named Maxim's top "Meat Hog" sandwich.

7. PHILLY CHEESESTEAK

Location: Pat's King Of Steaks, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is known for many things (Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, and Rocky, for starters), but fine dining is not really its forte. That's OK, though, because Philly is the home of Pat's King of Steaks, and Pat's King of Steaks is where the Philly cheesesteak was born. One day back in 1932, hot dog stand owners Pasquale (Pat) and Harry Olivieri decided to change things up and make a steak sandwich with onions. A cab driver who ate at Pat's daily insisted on trying the new sandwich, and with the first bite declared, "Hey, forget 'bout those hot dogs, you should sell these!" Cab drivers know fast food about as well as anyone, so the brothers did just what the cabbie suggested. In no time, the modest stand turned into the Pat's that exists today. Controversy remains, however, over who's responsible for putting the cheese in cheesesteak. Pat's claims it was the first to do so (in 1951), but across-the-street rival Joe Vento of Geno's Steaks (opened 1966) insists he added the finishing touches.

8. COBB SALAD

Location: Brown Derby, Los Angeles

Let's face it—most salads are wimpy little affairs meant for nothing more than occupying your mouth while you wait for the main course. Not the mighty Cobb, though. With lettuce, eggs, bacon, chicken, avocado, tomatoes, chives, watercress, Roquefort cheese, and a special dressing, the Cobb salad is not your traditional salad (or a healthy one, either). The man responsible for the concoction is Robert H. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles. Late one night in 1937, Cobb and his friend, Sid Grauman (owner of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre), were rooting around in the Derby kitchen looking for a snack. Cobb essentially grabbed whatever was left in the fridge, chopped it all up, and prepared a salad. Grauman came by the next day and ordered himself a "Cobb salad." Word spread quickly (this was Hollywood, after all), and soon it became the landmark restaurant's signature dish.

9. ONION RINGS

Location: Pig Stand, Dallas, Texas

According to most sources, the onion ring was invented when a careless cook at a Pig Stand location in Dallas accidentally dropped an onion slice in some batter, then pulled it out and tossed it in the fryer for lack of a better destination. Now, you'd think inventing the onion ring would be enough for one restaurant chain, but not Pig Stand. The company also lays claim to opening America's first drive-in, inventing Texas toast, and being one of the first restaurants to advertise using neon signs. Not bad for a little outfit from Texas.

10. DERBY PIE

Location: Melrose Inn, Prospect, Kentucky

A Kentucky favorite, derby pie is a chocolate and walnut tart with a pastry-dough crust—and that's about all we know about it. Why? Because the recipe is jealously guarded by the Kern family. Melrose Inn manager George Kern created derby pie in the mid-1950s with help from his parents, Walter and Leaudra, and the dessert was such a hit that the family was soon baking the treat full-time. In fact, Mrs. Kern, being the crafty monopolist she was, copyrighted the name, and to this day, you can only get real "Derby-Pie®" through Kern's Kitchen, Inc. Not only that, but a man from New England once handed Leaudra a blank check for the recipe so that his daughter could make the pie at home. She refused.

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in mental_floss magazine in 2008.

All photos by iStock unless otherwise noted.

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LaCroix
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The Secret Ingredient That Makes LaCroix Water So Irresistible
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LaCroix

The distinctive Technicolor cans of LaCroix sparkling water are an increasingly popular sight in stores and on kitchen tables around the country. (If you're old enough to remember the Snapple phenomenon of the 1990s, this is like that—just bubbly.) But as The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, few of the beverage's loyal fans have any idea what it is they're drinking.

LaCroix comes in a variety of flavors, from tangerine to coconut. The can label, however, is cryptic, listing "natural flavors" as part of the ingredients. Their website discloses only that "natural essence oils" are involved, which sounds like LaCroix should be applied to your hair and then rinsed off.

A look at the nutritional information for LaCroix water
LaCroix

As it turns out, that's not too far off. According to The Wall Street Journal, these "essences" are naturally produced chemicals that are manufactured by heating up fruit or vegetable remnants until they make a vapor, then condensing them into a clear concentrate. They're used in a variety of consumer products, from shampoos to ice pops.

LaCroix was unwilling to confirm the Journal's claim, protecting their manufacturing process in a manner similar to Coca-Cola's famously secretive treatment of their recipe. They do state that no sugars are added, but that may not be enough to protect your teeth: Carbonated water and citric acids can combine to create a lower pH, which has a detrimental effect on tooth enamel. Like most everything that tastes good, these flavored waters are best enjoyed in moderation.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]

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In 1938, The New York Times Thought Cheeseburgers Were a Weird New Fad
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People love to make fun of The New York Times's trend section: Their umpteen pieces on the Millennial craze have been called "hate-reads," and their dissection of cultural norms such as oversharing, defriending people in real life, and chopped salad at lunch as "trends" can be hilarious and infuriatingly obvious.

But while their pieces aren't always exactly timely, they will certainly make for interesting reads in a few decades—just like this throwback piece on a California fad called "cheeseburgers" from 1938.

When "cheeseburger" was first mentioned in the October 1938 article, it was in a long list about the "whimsy" of California eateries. Then, nine years later in May 1947, the Times revisited the fad, writing, "At first, the combination of beef with cheese and tomatoes, which sometimes are used, may seem bizarre." Fortunately, their intrepid reporter could see the bigger picture. "If you reflect a bit, you’ll understand the combination is sound gastronomically."

Now, 70 years later, you can not only ask for gourmet cheeses like brie, goat, or gorgonzola on your burger—or spend upwards of $300 on one—there are multiple burger chains where you can order stacks on stacks on stacks of cheeseburger patties. That weird little West Coast fad has become a multibillion dollar industry, and cheeseburgers are practically our national food (arguably in hot contention with apple pie). Congratulations, America! We did it!

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