The one document in the history of American cuisine that is probably cited more frequently than any other is the so-called ““1834 Delmonico menu”” that situates an early Delmonico restaurant at 494 Pearl Street in Manhattan. Allegedly printed in 1834, this bill of fare is often touted as the first restaurant menu printed in America. It has been mentioned in a variety of other contexts, too: in histories of Delmonico's restaurant and of that quintessential ““American”” food, the hamburger, in discussions about the semantics of menu language, and as an illustration of early menu design. The prices it quotes have been used to illustrate historical food costs and inflation, and it has even been co-opted to tout restaurants aspiring to the standards set long ago by the famed restaurateur Lorenzo Delmonico.
Our investigation suggests the so-called ““1834 Delominco menu”” was never issued by the celebrated Delmonico family. Rather, it was a handbill for a ““cheap dining hall”” called ““Small Delmonico's,”” at 494 Pearl Street, in New York City, owned and operated during the late 1880's by an Italian immigrant named Barnabo.