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Wild About Maison Foffe

Nov 4, 2010 10:19 AM | 3 comments

Venison, anyone?  How about some wild pheasant?

Foffe's game

No, this ghastly tableau doesn't depict a horrible roadkill incident but, rather, an invitation to dinner.  Decades ahead of the current trends of locally-sourced food and organic meats, Alfred Foffe was serving wild game in his tony Brooklyn Heights restaurant, Maison Foffe.  These suspended carcasses signal to those in the know that Foffe is back from his annual hunting trip with a menu of fresh-from-the-wild animals to serve his customers. 

The story of the Foffe family's establishment as Brooklyn restaurant royalty reads like a classic example of the American dream. The widowed head of the family, Maria Foffe, brought her brood of nine fatherless Foffes to the United States from Italy around 1915, first opening a restaurant in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  After that enterprise failed, the family moved to Brooklyn in 1929. There the floundering Foffes had better luck with the opening of Maison Foffe in 1932, at 155 Montague Street.  Alfred ran Maison Foffe with his brother, John, and lived in the apartment above the restaurant with his mother until her death in 1949.  The spot started out as a tea room, but expanded to become, according to one Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, "the equivalent of many of the Eastside Manhattan class spots" by 1948.  Other Foffe offspring prospered in the restaurant business as well, setting up a satellite kingdom in Bay Ridge with Foffe's Restaurant and the Vanity Fair nightclub and banquet hall. 

Hunter/restaurateur Alfred Foffe

The tradition of the annual venison dinner at Maison Foffe dates back to 1938, when Alfred and John enjoyed an autumnal hunting expedition in Putnam County and brought back enough meat to serve more than 200 "lovers of game." Although the feast was suspended during World War II when Alfred enlisted in the army, the Foffes were again bagging winged and hoofed delicacies for their patrons by 1949.  Aside from this special feast, the restaurant maintained an adventurous menu including "Scotch grouse, mallard duck, pheasant, frog legs, pompano, Canadian brook trout, chateaubriand, and the like.  Appetizers include such delicacies as eel in wine, and in the dessert field there are crepes suzette and cherries jubilee." 

This breathless account came from Al Salerno, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's "Night Life" columnist and a personal friend and ardent fan of the Foffe family.  Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Salerno devoted countless lines of copy to praising the various Foffe enterprises.  Salerno even accompanied Alfred on one of his famed hunting trips, lamenting in one column that "for a few days, I gave up night life for wild life."

Sadly--or happily, depending on your point of view--Maison Foffe no longer graces Montague Street with the fresh corpses of New York's bestiary.  Alfred Foffe died in 1984 and the restaurant closed its doors in the years following.  The spot is now occupied by a hair salon, which provides a handy segue to this Eagle clipping from 1940, further testament to the local celebrity and quirky nature of Alfred Foffe: 

 

Comments

11/4/2010 1:24:16 PM #

Fascinating!  While I doubt current health code regulations would permit such a display, wouldn't it be interesting and educational if more food vendors showed examples of what the food looked like before it was served on a plate!  I love it.

Kim

11/4/2010 2:19:55 PM #

Foffe's was also a prime political spot.  Long-time Democratic leader Meade Esposito regularly held court at a table there for many years.  I remember when a vice-presidential candidate came to pay his respects to him - lots of secret service men keeping an eye on all the curious locals.

'Elizabeth

11/28/2012 11:56:51 PM #

My best friend was Maria Foffe who lived with her parents John and Victoria above Foffe's Restaurant at 155 Montague Street. Uncle Alfred and his familky lived on the top floor.  Those years...the early sixties...are among my happiest memories.

Rona Wosk