When George Washington ate a farewell dinner with his officers after the end of the Revolutionary War back when New York City was the temporary capital of the newly formed United States, the fare at the Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl St. in New York City included chicken pot pie, roasted corn chowder, pan-roasted cod, breast of capon Madeira, Yankee pot roast, sirloin au poivre with Yorkshire pudding and lots of oysters, which they sold by the barrel back then and on the streets. But besides our first president, other famous people in the early years of our country have dined here, including Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who both attended a dinner for the Society of Cincinnati on July 4, 1803. Seven days later, Burr fatally wounded Hamilton as the two dueled at the Cliffs of Weehawken.
The large red brick building with wood-framed windows painted yellow was first built as a home in 1671 and then purchased in 1762 by Samuel Fraunces, who opened a tavern. I was in New York recently for the BookExpo America, which is billed as the largest annual book trade fair in the U.S., to sign galley copies of my two new books — "Murders That Made Headlines" and "Hauntings of the Underground Railroad," which are both published by Indiana University Press and due out Aug. 1. And yes, the lines for books signed by Hillary Clinton, Stephen Kind and Scott Turow were much, much longer than mine. Being a fan of historic architecture and food, the Fraunces Tavern was on my definite list of places to visit while in town.
When we finally found it — GPS doesn’t work that well in the winding narrow streets of what is the oldest part of New York — it was worth the 3-mile walk on a 90-degree day. The ambiance is all very Colonial with wood planked floors, late 18th century furniture, arched doorways and a museum dedicated to the building’s history and early patrons. The menu features homage to the past as well as contemporary American fare. And our waiter didn’t care that it was 10 minutes after happy hour.
In an interesting aside, one of Fraunces’ five daughters, Phoebe, became General Washington’s housekeeper. Told of a plot to kill the future president by a besotted British agent, Phoebe, when serving peas to Washington whispered they were poisoned. As the story goes, Washington tossed them out the window where they were eaten by his free ranging chickens who all died.
The following are recipes from Fraunces Tavern like the ones Washington might have ate.
Yankee Pot Roast
3 pounds beef rump roast, cut into roughly 1-inch by 4-inch chunks
1 carrot, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup veal stock, or beef bouillon
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons Madeira wine or sherry, optional
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Sprigs of thyme, optional garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In an ovenproof baking dish or Dutch oven with lid, brown roast on all sides in oil. Remove beef from pan; add carrot, onion and celery and cook in butter until caramelized, about 5 minutes; add tomato paste and cook until caramelized. Add stock, bay leaf and thyme; simmer for about 10 minutes.
Return meat to pot and cover. Braise in oven at 350 F until tender, 45 to 50 minutes.
Remove roast. Skim fat off juices; heat juices to reduce slightly; add wine, salt and pepper.
Serve pot roast with juices, Sherry Braised Cabbage and Corn Pancakes (recipes below). Garnish with sprigs of thyme, if desired.
Sherry Braised Cabbage
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red cabbage, shredded
1 medium apple, peeled and sliced
¼ cup red currant jelly
1 bay leaf
3 allspice berries
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup sherry
Preheat oven to 325 F.
In ovenproof pot or Dutch oven with lid, sauté onion in oil. Add cabbage, apple, jelly, bay leaf, allspice, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup sherry. Cover and bake for 2 hours; when done, stir in remaining 1/4 cup sherry.
Makes 6 servings.
1/2 cup cornmeal
Pinch salt, or to taste
1/4 cup milk, plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon butter
Mix egg, cornmeal and salt. Add milk. Melt .5 tablespoon of butter; add to batter. Melt other .5 tablespoon butter to coat 7-inch nonstick sauté pan. Pour 1 tablespoon batter into pan. Cook on one side for 30 to 40 seconds; flip and cook for further 15 seconds.
Makes 6 pancakes.
Serve pancakes wrapped around portions of braised cabbage, if desired.
Chicken a la George Washington
1 cup steamed rice
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
1 cup braised and buttered mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cream sauce
Fill half the casserole dish with steamed rice. Thoroughly mix chicken, mushrooms and cream sauce before pouring over rice. Sprinkle top with grated cheese and melted butter. Place under broiler to brown.