Today I learned that iconic designer Milton Glaser co-wrote a column for New York magazine (which he co-founded) about where to find cheap-but-good food in NYC. It was called The Underground Gourmet. Here’s a typical column from the October 27, 1975 issue, reviewing a ramen joint in Midtown called Sapporo that is miraculously still around:
Glaser and his co-authior Jerome Snyder eventually packaged the column into a series of books, some of which you can find on Amazon…I bought a copy this morning.
I found out about Glaser’s food enthusiasm from this interview in Eye magazine about The Underground Gourmet and his long collaboration with restaurateur Joe Baum of the Rainbow Room and Windows on the World.
We just walked the streets … When friends of ours knew we were doing it we got recommendations.
There were parts of the city where we knew we could find good places … particularly in the ethnic parts. We knew if we went to Chinatown we would find something if we looked long enough, or Korea Town, or sections of Little Italy.
More then than now, the city was more locally ethnic before the millionaires came in and bought up every inch of space. So you could find local ethnic places all over the city. And people were dying to discover that. And it was terrific to be able to find a place where you could have lunch for four dollars.
In 2010, Josh Perilo wrote an appreciation of The Underground Gourmet in which he noted only six of the restaurants reviewed in the 1967 edition had survived:
Being obsessed with the food and history of New York (particularly Manhattan), this was like finding a culinary time capsule. I immediately dove in. What I found was shocking, both in the similarities between then and now, and in the differences.
The most obvious change was the immense amount of restaurants that no longer existed. These were not landmarked establishments, by and large. Most of them were hole-in-the wall luncheonettes, inexpensive Chinese restaurants and greasy spoons. But the sheer number of losses was stunning. Of the 101 restaurants profiled, only six survive today: Katz’s Delicatessen, Manganaro’s, Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes Bakery, The Puglia and La Taza de Oro. About half of the establishments were housed in buildings that no longer exist, especially in the Midtown area. The proliferation of “lunch counters” also illustrated the evolution of this city’s eating habits. For every kosher “dairy lunch” joint that went down, it seems as though a Jamba Juice or Pink Berry has taken its place.
Man, it’s hard not get sucked into reading about all these old places…looking forward to getting my copy of the book in a week or two.
Update: Glaser’s co-author Jerome Snyder was also a designer…and no slouch either.