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All the Presidents’ Favorite Foods

This article of All the Presidents’ Favorite Foods covers Fraunces Tavern history and George Washington’s last visit. In as much as history reveals, “All the Presidents’ Foods” covers specific dishes, menus and ingredients once or currently enjoyed by American Presidents. Originally published by The Astute Recorder.

Note: this article was originally published in 2009, please check Fraunces Tavern for new menu prices.

Fraunces Tavern History, George Washington PotraitHow intriguing is George Washington’s visits to Fraunces Tavern? When my colleague John Rosenfelder—founder and sports- and music-marketing guru of Earbender—told me about Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan, I must admit to not believing an establishment where American President George Washington dined is still, to this day, a favorite place for food. But it does and I am ever so grateful to Rosenfelder for the tip. Afterall, he is a New York native, so of course he is an informed evangelist of his state’s history.

American Tavern Food

Before it was known as Fraunces Tavern, it reflected Samuel Fraunces’ anti-crown sentiment with the name “the Queen’s Head.” Founded in 1762, the inn later became known as Sam Fraunces’ House and, by the 1770s, was known as Fraunces’ Tavern. According to Elise Lathrop, author of “Early American Inns and Taverns” (McBride & Company, 1926), Fraunces had always appealed to an upstanding crowd.
“Patronized from the first by the best people of New York,” Lathrop writes , “[Fraunces] became famous for its Madeira wine, while the ‘Long Room’ continued to be used for concerts and other entertainments.”

Typical of the inns and taverns of early America, Fraunces played an important role to colonial society; its existence was vital to travelers in the pre-automobile era, while enabling guests to lodge, dine and warm up on cold winter nights before continuing on their respective journeys. Yet, inns and taverns—also known as “ordinaries”—were significant meeting places for Americans who would shape the new country.1
Fraunces Tavern photos by John Rosenfelder, CEO of Earbender.

fraunces_door_full“Taverns were public gathering places where ideas could be freely exchanged,” writes Amy Northrup Adamo, former director for Fraunces Tavern Museum, in a white paper. “Free speech could be practiced within their walls – including discussion of government laws and actions that were disagreeable to the populace.”

As Fraunces sympathized with the patriots, so did his lodgers. While America’s first Commander-in-Chief General George Washington is the most prominent of the 54 Pearl Street guests, also embedded in the tavern’s history is its 18th century reputation as a meeting spot for the Sons of Liberty.

“These were the places that revolutionaries like the Sons of Liberty met, developed their plans, and drummed up popular support for their sentiments,” Adamo continues. “The Revolution was born in Colonial American taverns.”

tallmadge_memorial_fullToday, Fraunces celebrates the gatherings of the Sons of Liberty, which took place in the Long Room, it also heralds George Washington’s emotional farewell dinner to his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War.

“At 12 o’clock the officers repaired to Francis’ Tavern, in Pearl Street, where Gen. Washington had appointed to meet them and to take is final leave of them, ” Col. Benjamin Tallmadge records on page 63 of his memoir. On the same page, the soldier and former U.S. House of Representatives member recounts Washington’s toast to his officers before retreating to Mount Vernon.

Early American Tavern Food

Through an interesting conversation with Suzanne Prabucki, curator and collections manager of Fraunces, I learned there are currently no records of what the first Commander-in-Chief ate on his jaunts to the three-story tavern. In my additional research, I’ve discovered elaborate lists of dishes offered at other taverns but they are generally from a later time period, such as the mid-1800s, long after Washington lead the Revolutionary War. And based on my talk with Ms. Prabucki, this is an important distinction.

fraunces_dining_room_full“Taverns in the 18th century rarely, if ever, had printed menus. The food served in a tavern depended upon what was available in the local markets on the given day,” Prabucki says. “What was basically a prix fixe meal was served and that was all that was available. The main meal, served in the middle of the day, was called an ‘ordinary’ and was priced per person, not by the dish (a la carte-by the menu).”

What could have been available for eats in the era Washington made his way through New England taverns? Perhaps brick-oven-baked breads, beef, pork and vegetables. Lathrop says these foods comprised the fare at Richard Pitkin’s Tavern in Manchester, Conn., through which Rochambeau and his army supposedly passed in 1781. At Clark’s Tavern, in Milford, Conn., where Washington stayed several times, the first U.S. President reportedly ate porridge for breakfast.2

In the Feb. 25, 1980 issue of People magazine, Barbara Rowe writes of George Washington’s near-death experience with poisoned peas. The culprit was Thomas Hickey, a Tory spy and lover to Fraunces’ daughter Phoebe, who exposed Hickey and had him “sent to the gallows.”

Rowes concludes her article with a quote by the-then owner Robert Norden, who’d once considered making the modern-day Fraunces menu full of colonial dishes. “But when we got the recipes together,” Nordent tells Rowe, “we realized that what George Washington ate nobody would touch today. Do you know anybody who hankers for a good squirrel stew?” 3

Alcohol and Tavern Life

Referencing Kym S. Rice’s “Early American Taverns: For the Entertainment of Friends and Strangers,” a book originally written for Fraunces Tavern Museum in 1983, Adamo talks about the prevalence of alcohol within the taverns and inns. And it’s possible this had to do with the limited access to clean drinking water.

“It has been estimated that by the time of the Revolution, the annual per capita consumption of distilled spirits was 3.7 gallons,” Adamo writes. “By the beginning of the 19th century, inexpensive whiskey had become more available, and consumption rose to five gallons, approximately three times today’s levels.”

Today’s Menu and Museum

Today, having survived numerous fires throughout its history, Fraunces Tavern functions as an elegant dining space in the heart of the financial district near Wall St. With entrée prices ranging from $14 to $26, gourmet dishes hint of the simplicity that was Colonial-style eating: Roasted cod fish, roasted game hen, Sheppard’s pie, tender pot roast and corned beef sandwich, each of which comes with sides that could consist of fava beans, spinach, potatoes or other vegetables.

An extensive dessert menu ($5 – $14) features all-American-apple pie, mixed-berry cobbler, a chef’s choice of fruits and cheeses, chocolate mousse and various ice creams and sorbets.

You can also order a prix fixe menu for $20.09 per person and enjoy a beet salad of mescalun, goat cheese and pine nuts to start; entrée choices of seared salmon with rosemary mashed pototoes or chicken parmigiana over spaghetti; and coconut panna cotta for dessert.

To see the full menu, click here.
The legendary Long Room serves as the museum and features art exhibits depicting the Revolution and lunchtime and evening lectures. You can also arrange Colonial-themed weddings through the restaurant.

Address and Phone

Fraunces Tavern. 54 Pearl St., New York, NY 10004. Click here for reservations.

Fraunces Tavern Museum. 54 Pearl St., New York, NY 10004. 212-425-1778

References

1 – 2. Early American Inns and Taverns, Elise Lathrop (McBride & Company, 1926), pp. viii, 53, 55
3. “George Washington Supped Here and Nearly Died from the Peas, but Fraunces Tavern Is Still Serving,” Barbara Roes, People (Feb. 25, 1980)