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Vintage Cookbooks: New York icon's German flavors live on

Thursday, June 01, 2000

By Alice Demetrius Stock, Post-Gazette staff writer

In 1998 New York magazine asked readers to vote for their favorites to be installed in a newly created New York Food Hall of Fame. In the category of Most Missed Restaurants, New Yorkers chose, along with Mama Leone's and Le Pavillon, Luchow's. It was inevitable that New York's landmark German restaurant, at East 14th Street from 1882 to 1982, would be missed. It was also inevitable it would eventually inspire a cookbook: "Luchow's German Cookbook," compiled by Jan Mitchell in 1952.

In the beginning, 28 chefs chosen only from Austria and southern Germany kept the menu "pure German."

Later owners kept the cuisine that's reflected in the cookbook's classic recipes for appetizers (herring salad), soups (cold fruit), fish and shellfish (sea bass with white grapes; deviled crab), game birds and poultry (duckling in aspic), meats and game (veal cutlet with mushrooms; venison stew hunter style), cheese and eggs, dumplings and noodles, salads (cucumbers and sour cream), vegetables (red cabbage with apples), sauces, and desserts (hazelnut torte).

Luchow's was founded by August Guido Luchow, who came to America in 1879. He established his business in a three-story brownstone near Union Square, now a cut-rate shopping district but then the center of Manhattan culture and home to the Academy of Music. Handsome carved-oak paneling, huge mirrors, etched glass, skylights and wall murals made Luchow's handsome. The food and the society who came to enjoy it made it popular.

Financier, gambler and glutton Diamond Jim Brady (he was known to eat 12 dozen oysters at a sitting) gave banquets at Luchow's, where guests might find a piece of diamond jewelry tucked under their napkins. His companion was actress Lillian Russell.

Luchow's was a favorite of musicians, such Rubinstein, Paderew- ski, Enrico Caruso, Richard Strauss, Victor Herbert and, later, Toscanini, long after 14th Street ceased to the center of New York's musical life.

Mitchell bought the restaurant in 1950. A condition of sale was a solemn promise to the heirs of August Luchow to preserve the traditions and Gemutlichkeit.

Luchow's survived the World Wars, the Depression and Prohibition, but its way of life finally succumbed to a changing neighborhood and changing attitudes about "gentlemen only" seatings, prodigious meat and potato meals, and pitchers of beer in an atmosphere heavy with cigar smoke.

Luchow's moved to midtown Manhattan in 1982 and closed a few years later. The building that housed the cultural icon of the 1890s was gutted by a suspicious fire in 1992. New York University bought the property and built a dormitory on the site. Plans called for it to include a street-level cafe with a Gay '90s theme. University President L. Jay Oliva said the idea was to "re-echo some of the past glory of 14th Street" and of Luchow's.

Luchow's is gone, but not forgotten. The memories and the recipes live on.

Luchow's Potato Salad

2 pounds (about 6 medium) potatoes (we used Yukon gold)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup beef or chicken stock
1/2 medium onion, chopped
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 hard-cooked egg yolk (optional)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Add salt to water and boil the potatoes in their jackets until tender.

Cool only enough to peel and slice into 1/4-inch slices.

Warm the stock over a low flame, then pour over the warm potatoes.

Add onion and pepper.

Mix oil and vinegar until smooth, mash in the egg yolk (if using) to thicken, pour dressing over the warm potatoes and toss to distribute. Serves 4 warm or chilled.

Note: Olive oil, which can quickly become rancid, must be absolutely fresh.

Adapted from "Luchow's German Cookbook" by Jan Mitchell, 1952.

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