A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 07, 2008
Lobster Fra Diavolo (Shrimp Fra Diavolo)

"Lobster Fra Diavolo” (Italian meaning “Brother Devil") is served in Italian restaurants, mostly in America. The dish is believed to be American because Maine lobsters were originally used. The lobster is cooked in a spicy sauce (hence the “devil” name) that usually contains tomatoes, and the dish is usually served on a bed of pasta. “Shrimp Fra Diavolo” --a later dish, cited from the 1930s—is perhaps more popular today.

“Lobster Fra Diavolo” is believed to have been first served in New York City, perhaps at the Enrico & Paglieri restaurant at 66 West Eleventh Street that first opened in 1908. (See 1949 article, below.)


Wikipedia: Fra diavolo (sauce)
Fra Diavolo (Italian for “Brother Devil") is the name given to a spicy sauce for pasta or seafood. Most versions are tomato-based and use chili peppers for spice, but the term is also used for sauces that include no tomato, or that use cayenne or other forms of pepper. Authors of cook books often assert that the dish was named for Michele Pezza, but documentation is lacking. The devil had been portrayed disguised as a monk long before Pezza was born (see The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Marlowe for an example), so this point must remain doubtful.

Food Network
Lobster Fra Diavolo
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2006
Show:  Emeril Live
Episode:  Lovin’ Lobster

1 pound fettucine
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup small diced onion
2 teaspoons shallots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups canned tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound blanched lobster meat, from claws and tails
1 cup lobster stock, recipe follows
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Fresh basil leaves, to garnish (...)

Food Network
Shrimp Fra Diavolo
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Show:  Everyday Italian
Episode:  Quick Italian Dishes

1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional as needed
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons
1 medium onion, sliced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
3 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

Toss the shrimp in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt and red pepper flakes. Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and saute for about a minute, toss, and continue cooking until just cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a large plate; set aside. Add the onion to the same skillet, adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan, if necessary, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, wine, garlic, and oregano. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the tomato mixture; toss to coat, and cook for about a minute so the flavors meld together. Stir in the parsley and basil. Season with more salt, to taste, and serve.

Going Places in New York City
Winter Edition 1937-1938
by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (H. D. Copp, editor)
Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Daily Eagle Press
1937
Pg. 47:
La Palina.....179 Navy Street
Ask any spaghetti addict about this place. It’s widely known and much favored by theatrical celebs and atmosphere hunters. We recommend the Baked Oysters, the Chicken Cacciatore, and the Lobster Diabiola. The service is slow and the waiters fresh but the food is well worth the strain on your disposition.

Google Books
Where to Dine in Thirty-Nine:
A Guide to New York Restaurants

by Diana Ashley
New York, NY: Crown Publishers
1939
Pg. 26:
CHEF’S RECIPE: LOBSTER A LA FRA DIAVOLO.

Google Books
San Francisco: A Pageant
by Charles Caldwell Dobie and Edward Howard Suydam
New York, NY: D. Appleton-Century
1939
Pg. 294:
Other oven-baked specialties are Lobster Fra Diablo,...

19 May 1939, North Adams (MA) Transcript, pg. 3, col. 4 ad:
LOBSTER a la Fra Diavolo...75c
(Venice Grill—ed.)

11 October 1939, Huntingdon (PA) Daily News, pg. 9, col. 7:
LOBSTER FRA DIAVOLO
Cut a two-pound lobster in cubes. Fry in olive oil on a hot fire for ten minutes. Put in a bay leaf, a teaspoon of chopped onion and a little garlic, salt and pepper. Last, add two cups stewed tomatoes. Take away lobster after cooking 20 minutes. Serve with boiled rice.

Google Books
Swift Are the Shadows
by Giuseppe Di Gioia
New York, NY: The Pyramid Press
1941
Pg. 200:
“Spaghetti with clams...lobster a la ‘Fra Diavolo’...scaloppine a la vermouth...gorgonzola...fruit and demi-tasse, at its very best.”

Google Books
Knife and Fork in New York:
Where to Eat, What to Order

by Lawton Mackall
New York, NY: Robert M. McBride & Company
1948
Pg. 69:
...squids fra diavolo…
(Vulcania, 114 West 45th Street—ed.)
Pg. 78:
Scalloppine are turned out in eleven manners, octopus is served en cocotte, but the chef is prouder still of his lobster Fra Diavolo (tomato sauce; tuck your napkin in your collar), which he claims is the most authentic ever.
(Raffaele, 100 West 57th Street—ed.)
Pg. 79:
Colorful, too, are the paprika shrimps a la Fra Diavolo and the calamari (squids) in tomato sauce.
(Red Devil, 111 West 48th Street—ed.)

26 February 1949, New York (NY) Times, pg. 15:
ENRICO FASANI, SET UP
ITALIAN CUISINE HERE

Enrico Fasani, owner of the Enrico & Paglieri Restaurant, 66 West Eleventh Street, died late Thursday in his home at that address of a heart attack after a brief illness. His age was 69.

The restaurant, which Mr. Fasani established at the same address in 1908 with the late Paul Paglieri, is one of the best-known and oldest in the city specializing in Italian cuisine. The partners started in a small way, the menu at first seldom varying from minestrone, lobster diavolo and chicken. At that time an entire meal, including wine, could be had for 55 cents.

In the present restaurant, which occupies three brownstone houses, there is an electric rotisserie encased in stained glass which turns out twenty-four chickens every twenty minutes.

The owners were among the first in New York to establish the garden-type restaurant in the rear of the enclosed dining room, and their venture started a considerable vogue of that type. In 1937 Mr. Fasani was named dean of the New York Society of Restaurateurs, receiving as a mark of that dignity a gold spaghetti fork and spoon. Two years ago he estimated he had served his customers about 800,000 bottles of wine since opening day.

For many years Enrico & Paglieri’s has been a favorite resort of celebrities, particularly of the stage and screen. Among those whose patronage the management claims to have had have been Enrico Caruso, Mary Pickford, Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske and a number of noted artists and sculptors.

Mr. Fasani leaves his wife, Victoria.

6 March 1952, Cumberland (MD) Evening Times, “Shrimp A La Fra Diavolo Is Tasty,” pg. 10, col. 6:
A wonderful Italian dish bears the impressive title of “Shrimp a la Fra Diavolo”—and as buffet supper fare it is hard to beat.

Into a large pot or kettle but 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of olive oil. When both are blended and hot add two large onions, chopped fine, 3 leeks, chopped fine, 1 small chopped clove of garlic and 1/4 cup of minced chives.

When these begin to get golden add 1 1/2 pounds of fresh green shrimp, intact in their shells.

When the shrimp turn pink add a pint of dry white wine and season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook all for 10 minutes over a moderate fire, remove the shrimp and set aside.

To the pot add a small can of Italian-type tomatoes and 2 level tablespoons of Italian tomato paste. Cook for 5 minutes over a moderate fire. Then strain the works through a sieve into another pot, forcing the material through with a masher or wooden spoon.

RETURN SHRIMP TO HOT SAUCE
Dissolve 2 bouillon cubes in 1/2 cup of boiling water and add. Let the mixture boil until reduced by about 1/3.

While the sauce is being reduced shell the shrimp and just before serving return the shrimp to the sauce and heat through. Add a couple of tablespoons of minced parsley. Then add 2 ounces of butter—about 4 tablespoons, and when it melts the dish is ready to serve. This is spicy and delicious.

Serve with hot rolls and a tossed green salad.

You can serve this shrimp and sauce concoction with spaghetti too and get rounds of applause. It may also be served in a large pastry shell. Two or three will be ample for a part of ten or possibly twelve.

1955 Manhattan (NY) Yellow Pages, pg. 1486:
ANGELO’S NEOPOLITAN RESTAURANT
Serving All Seafood in Season
LOBSTER “FRA DIAVOLO”
OUR SPECIALTY
146 Mulberry...CAnl 6-8527

New York (NY) Times
Origin of Popular Lobster Fra Diavolo Bedevils the Experts
By FLORENCE FABRICANT
Published: May 29, 1996
LOBSTER FRA DIAVOLO, lobster in a spicy tomato sauce with linguine, “brother devil” style, sounds Italian, tastes Italian and is a staple in Italian restaurants. But is it Italian?

“Oh, dear,” sighed Anna Teresa Callen, the Italian-born cookbook author and cooking teacher, when asked about it. “It’s not an Italian dish. It’s really another Italian-American invention. I have never seen it in Italy, and I suspect that it came from Long Island.”

Like Mrs. Callen, many authorities on Italian cooking are not on the side of the devil.

Tony May, the owner of San Domenico, who is from Naples, said lobster fra diavolo was not from his hometown. “It’s like the lemon peel with the coffee, he continued. “I first heard of it when I came to New York in 1963. I think there was a restaurant in midtown called Fra Diavolo that started it. Or maybe the restaurant was Vesuvio.”

Giuliano Bugialli, another cookbook author and cooking teacher, said it was invented in New York. “We don’t even have American lobsters in Italy,” he added. “And a heavy tomato sauce with hot peppers, seafood and pasta all in one dish is not Italian cooking. I think it came from a restaurant that was near the old Met, around 38th Street and Broadway.”

Others trace its origins to Little Italy. Victor Hazan, the wine expert, said he remembered first eating lobster fra diavolo at the Grotta Azzurra restaurant in Little Italy in 1940. His wife, Marcella, the cookbook author and teacher, added: “You brought me to that restaurant. I remember the dish clearly because it was so heavy and typical of Italian cooking in America. We don’t eat like that in Italy.”

Nancy Verde Barr, the author of “We Called It Macaroni,” a book about Italian immigrant cooking, said she knew it was an American invention, probably from Little Italy in New York. “I did not include it in my book because it was restaurant food and never something we made at home,” she explained.

But the consensus is far from unanimous. There are those who vouch for the Italian authenticity of the rich, spicy dish.

Take Frank Scognamillo, an owner of Patsy’s in midtown. “My father told me it came from Naples,” he said. “The Calabresi and Neapolitans love hot sauces, and the recipes are all there. They have been handed down for generations.” Not in Tony May’s family, but never mind.

Mr. Scognamillo’s father, Pasquale, came to New York from Naples in 1923 and opened Patsy’s in 1944. Lobster fra diavolo is a favorite of Patsy’s regulars like Frank Sinatra, Carroll O’Connor and Neil Sedaka. “But Sinatra wants his with less garlic,” Mr. Scognamillo said.

John Mariani, the food writer, whose parents emigrated from Italy, said he found mentions of it in guides to New York restaurants written in the 1930’s, but he also remembered his mother’s preparing lobster fra diavolo for his father. “I asked her about it, and she said she learned of the dish from him when they were still living in Italy,” he noted. His father was from the Abruzzi region.

In the dim blue fluorescent light of the very Grotta Azzurra in Little Italy where Victor Hazan had his first taste of lobster fra diavolo, the dish is as heavy, garlicky and peppery as ever. And though it is not for the fastidious diner, it remains a satisfying dish. “My father told me my grandfather brought the dish from Naples,” said Connie Davino, an owner. “They had different lobsters in Naples, but they had a dish like that. We’ve been serving it as long as I can remember.” Or longer. The restaurant was founded in 1908.

Google Books
The Italian-American Cookbook
by John Mariani
Boston, MA: Harvard Common Press
2001
Pg. 233:
SHRIMP FRA DIAVOLO
In Italy the phrase “alla fra diavolo” (AH-lah-dee-AH-voh-loh), which means “in the Brother Devil’s style,” refers to a dish in which chicken is sprinkled heavily with black pepper and then grilled—a recipe you’ll find on page 324. In AMerica, lobster fra diavolo became a popular restaurant dish in the 1930s—it was unknown in Italy, where they do not have American lobsters. It was one of the dishes my mother had to learn from my father’s mother, and cook properly, before she would believe that my mother was fit to marry her son.

The reference to “brother Devil” refers both to the red color of the lobster and the tomato sauce and to the hot bite provided by chile pepper in some form, which suggests that this might have originated with Abruzzese cooks who came to this country. While you may use cayenne pepper, the dried chile peppers give it a better flavor—adjust it to your degree of tolerance for hot peppers.

We’ve substituted shrimp for the lobster, but the dish may be made with either shellfish.

Google Books
It’s All American Food
by David Rosengarten
Boston, MA: Little, Brown and COmpany
2003
Pg. 28:
Lobster Fra Diavolo
There is a real controversy about the origins of this spicy, tomatoey, garlicky dish. Some old-timers claim that it’s a southern Italian tradition, made with spiny lobster. Others say that it’s a dish made up by rich restaurateurs in the United States, using southern Italian sauce ideas; they had access to Maine lobster, and they had clients willing to pay for it. You can never unravel the puzzle today; I recently had the dish near Palermo, and when I asked where the lobster came from, they said Boston. I can guarantee that that wasn’t going on in 1750 orso. But there is one big point of difference between the dish in America and the one in Italy today: here, many restaurants serve it on a bed of pasta. In Italy, of course, the separation of main course and pasta is more sacrosanct than the separation of church and state. I actually prefer it the Italian way, which puts more focus on the lobster. By all means, however, feel free to lay a base of sauced linguine under this great dish.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (1) Comments • Monday, April 07, 2008 • Permalink


Regarding your very informative article, I would like to add a few comments. 

My uncle (Frank Vincenti, Sr.) was the proprietor of The Red Devil Restaurant.  It was originally located on Mott Street in Little Italy, then later moved uptown to West 48th Street. 

It was at the latter location where many celebrated characters such as Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Albert Anastasia (leader of New York mafia), and droves of judges, lawyers, and others. 

At the original location on MOtt Street, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, and others would go downtown for the thrill of being there!

The restaurant brought its recipe for Lobster Fra Diavolo from Naples in the mid-1800’s.  The recipe was originally for other seafood (calamari, shrimp, etc) but The Red Devil Restaurant added “lobster” (and American / Long Island staple) to the recipe when it opened its summer restaurant in Long Beach, Long ISland in the 1940s! (NOTE: Long BEach catered to the rich and in Mario Puzo’s book, The Godfather, the Corleone family had its “compound” there!)

I have some other articles which may help you, as well as telephone listings in a 1939 NYC Directory, business cards, and matchbooks. 

The recipe for Fra Diavolo should logically be attributed to the RED DEVIL RESTAURANT based on its name alone! (Diavolo = devil) The restaurant can be dated to Napoli in the mid-1800’s (as indicated on its biz card.

If you are interested in more info, I can send it to you.  Thanks again for the great article!

charles

Posted by charles  on  04/17  at  12:37 PM

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