Alfredo 100’s (7 East 54th Street; 212-688-1999) recent opening of what owner Russell Belanca calls his new “flagship location” is not your typically “timely” restaurant opening. In case you weren’t aware, fettuccine Alfredo is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. While singing the happy birthday song to a bowl of pasta about to be devoured seems like a justifiable call, it’s better to marvel at the fact that a dish has enough appeal to become a centenarian. After all, most of today’s “iconic” dishes live and die by how many likes they receive on Instagram, and even that success can be fleeting.
Though plates of pasta in the post-carb era now feature modifiers like “gluten free” and “substitute whole wheat,” purists can still appreciate a location where orders requiring butter, cream, and Parmesan cheese are received with a smile.
As with any historic dish, there’s a great story surrounding the invention of fettuccine Alfredo.
Legend has it that Alfredo di Lelio of the original Alfredo’s of Rome created his signature dish to help restore his wife’s appetite after she gave birth. Though the dish existed in Italy — which may explain why it became really popular with Americans returning from vacations overseas — Di Lelio’s contribution was to double the amount of butter in the recipe. When Hollywood silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visited Rome on their honeymoon, their typically closed mouths stretched wide open, and a culinary rock star was born. Fast forward to today, and fettuccine Alfredo can be found throughout Italian restaurants in the United States. (Silent film stars…not so much.)
“It’s a 100-year-old brand this year. That’s unusual in itself,” reflects Bellanca, who opened the New York branch of Alfredo’s at Rockefeller Center back in 2001. Bellanca’s ties to the New York restaurant industry and the Alfredo’s brand date back to 1977, so he knows a thing or two about longevity in an extremely tough industry.
Though the restaurant celebrates fettuccine in many ways — versions include chicken, filet mignon, black caviar, and blue lobster at the bottom of your bowl — Bellanca is conscious of moder-day diners’ preferences. “When you carry a very famous dish and you’re famous for it, you’d better have some light and healthy options,” the owner says. Seared sliced tuna, baked eggplant, and grilled organic chicken with mixed veggies all represent executive chef James Henderson’s range when it comes to recreating an original Roman menu in a contemporary setting.
If you’re hell bent on some other form of pasta, the menu includes options like linguine with fresh clams and one with a spicy garlic, tomato, and basil sauce.
But back to the attention paid to fettuccine, which appears in tapas, as a side dish, and in entrée form. “Everyone, of course, needs to have a guilty pleasure,” says Bellanca. In a society obsessed with eating the right way, the secret to living to see 100 may finally be out.