CLOSE
Original image
iStock

The Birthplaces of 10 Great American Foods

Original image
iStock

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.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do We Cook So Many Foods at 350 Degrees?
Original image
iStock

Whether you’re making mouthwatering blueberry muffins from scratch or finally giving in to that partially opened box of fish sticks that's been hiding in the back of your freezer for eight months, there’s a fairly good chance that you’ll be heating your oven to 350ºF. How can such vastly different foods require the same cooking temperature?

It’s all thanks to something called the Maillard Reaction. In 1912, chemist Louis Camille Maillard was the first to describe the magical transformation that happens to food when it's cooked at around 300 to 350ºF. The finer details of the process are still not totally understood, but according to Serious Eats, it’s generally agreed that the Maillard Reaction happens when heat transforms the proteins and sugars in food, creating a release of new flavors, aromas, and colors. On a primitive level, these delicious changes signal to humans that the food won't harm us and may also contain vital nutrients.

However, that doesn’t mean that we should cook everything at 350ºF. That’s just the baseline. For example, most breads need higher temperatures to rise quickly, and puff pastries do better in the 400ºF range because the steam released at that temperature helps the dough expand. But for many recipes, 350ºF is the golden rule.

By the way: you should thank your lucky stars for modern oven temperature dials, which are way better than the old method of sticking your arm inside to test the heat. Before temperature technology existed, Slate says, bakers would hold an arm inside the oven to see if they could stand it for more than 30 seconds. If they could, it wasn’t hot enough yet.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Original image
istock
arrow
Food
Why Ice Cream Parlors Were Once Considered Evil
Original image
istock

Chocolate chip cookie dough is probably the only sin you connect with ice cream parlors—after all, they’re associated with squeaky-clean, rated-G good times in a fresh-faced, olden-timey environment. But ice cream didn’t always have such a deliciously benign rep. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century, the ice cream parlor was regarded by many as a den of corruption, prostitution, and sin. 

There was New York, where a man testified to a senate committee in 1895 that he knew of several ice cream parlors that were “really houses of prostitution or disorderly houses.” But Chicago was really the center of the immoral ice cream epidemic—the city had so many problems in ice cream parlors that it passed a curfew law and even forbade the institutions from erecting “curtains, screens, or partitions of any kind that will serve to divide such places into compartments.” 

In 1911, the city’s vice committee published a report of its activities at ice cream parlors, which included nabbing gropers, flirts, and girls who told boys they “could be had.” But perhaps the most outrageous anti-ice cream parlor screed was published in a 481-page 1909 book called War on the White Slave Trade, in which the Illinois Vigilance Association tore the city’s taste for cool treats to shreds.

“One thing should be made very clear to the girl who comes up to the city,” the association warned, “and that is that the ordinary ice cream parlor is very likely to be a spider’s web for her entanglement.” They went on to describe how foreign-owned ice cream establishments were “recruiting stations” for prostitution, where “scores of girls have taken their first steps downward.”

Why ice cream parlors? Historian and folklorist Bill Ellis writes that ice cream wasn’t exactly seen as all-American in the early 1900s. Despite its adoption by Americans like Thomas Jefferson, the cold treat was associated with foreign tastes—tastes that were associated with the specter of “white slavery,” a dated term used to described sex trafficking, prostitution, and other kinds of sexual debauchery during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Fueled by fear of immigrants, changes in how men and women met and married, and consternation over the relative freedom of working women, the term became a major cause at the turn of the century, and a rallying cry for panicked parents and uptight reformers.

Ice cream parlors found themselves in the center of the controversy. Often foreign-owned, the establishments that tried to capitalize on growing leisure time and changing tastebuds found themselves in the crosshairs of moral panic. 

So did the scoop scare cause ice cream business to dwindle? Not exactly. In a 1914 edition of The International Confectioner, an ice cream expert noted that the industry was already so big it could compete with butter production. “The man who kills the goose that lays the golden egg always has and ever will be called a fool,” he wrote. So much for empty ice cream freezers in those dens of sweet, sweet sin.

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios