Brooks Brothers flagship New York store, at 346 Madison Avenue, celebrates its centenary this year, its location chosen to serve the growing number of gentlemen’s clubs that had sprung up near the majestic, newly opened Grand Central Terminal.
Any chap clothed in a single-breasted, two-buttoned, blue plaid suit and Italian printed-silk tie might well feel celebratory sustenance is merited; fortunately, Grand Central is still going strong, and has as much to offer sharply dressed gourmets as it does suburban commuters.
I was reminded of this recently in Copenhagen, when I bumped into Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma with René Redzepi. He plans to open a “new Nordic” food hall and brasserie in Grand Central early next year, in the vast, marble-bedecked Vanderbilt Hall.
The outlets will, he says, offer everything from a cup of coffee to Noma-level gastronomy, as well as retailing all manner of Scandinavian goodies. For the moment, though, a well-dressed gentleman can do no better than pull up a stool at the Grand Central Oyster Bar (pictured).
“Legendary” is a word applied far too freely to restaurants, but this place deserves the epithet. In the limestone vaults on the station’s lower level, it has – apart from a blip in the early 1970s – been shucking oysters and ladling clam chowder to New Yorkers for more than a century. Its oyster list is phenomenal – every cove in New England and the Pacific Northwest seems to be name-checked – with 40 or so available at any one time.
The Manhattan Clam Chowder is a fine dish: littleneck clams cooked with celery, onion and peppers in a fragrant tomato broth, thickened with optional saltine cracker crumbs and finished with butter. The seasonal specials can be superb, too: soft shell crabs are on the menu until the end of this month, and there is an annual Dutch herring festival in June and July.
Above Grand Central, in the MetLife building, Naples 45 serves perhaps the city’s best Italian pizza: its blistered, puffy crusts owe more to places like Naples’ Da Michele than the protein orgies that Americans sometimes describe as pizza.
The flour and San Marzano tomatoes are from Italy, the fior di latte mozzarella is handmade, and the wood-fired oven cooks them perfectly. Try the Barese, with excellent fennel sausage, or the Vesuvio, with hot pepper and anchovies: but, if you have just been shopping at Brooks Brothers, tuck the napkin into your collar. The tomato sauce may be as authentically Italian as your silk tie, but that will be of little consolation should you spill it down your front.