Book Review: Delancey by Molly Wizenberg
“But there is something about Delancey that, to me, matters just as much: We get to make people happy. We get to give people a good night. We get to spend our days doing work that we can be proud of, and when we’re done, there’s all the pizza you can eat.”
Two summers ago, I read Molly Wizenberg’s debut memoir, A Homemade Life, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve had her follow-up memoir, Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage, on my shelf for a while and finally picked it up. To be honest, I started it at the end of January and then didn’t pick it up again until this weekend. I have been in a very big reading slump for the last few months. My husband and I are expecting a little girl at the beginning of September, so my brain has been consumed with pregnancy and baby stuff. But this weekend I decided to pick up Delancey again, and I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed it. So here’s hoping my reading slump is over!
Delancey is about Molly’s husband Brandon deciding to open a pizza restaurant in Seattle. Molly mentions early in the book that Brandon always talked about doing big things, but rarely followed through with his ideas. Until he decided to open a pizza restaurant, Molly just thought that was part of his personality; he would move from one hobby to another. But when Brandon is serious about opening a restaurant, Molly is in denial about him following through until he signs a lease on a space. Before finding a space, Brandon had been testing out pizza dough recipes for a while and playing around with toppings, while Molly was still very much focusing on her writing career and working on A Homemade Life. A lot of the memoir is about how Molly was somewhat along for the ride, but never really invested until it became a reality. I cannot imagine being newlyweds and having your whole future changed because your husband decided to open a restaurant and you just assumed it was one of those dreams that would never become a reality. She mentions at one point how she envisioned them being able to cook and eat at home together every night, and once he opened a restaurant, that life would never happen. As much as it seemed like they really needed to have frank conversations with each other, I do appreciate her being completely candid about the struggles for both of them individually and their marriage.
Once Brandon signed a lease for the restaurant, he had roughly six months to turn it into a viable space. I really enjoyed reading about that time and how he and friends were able to make it happen. It is crazy to me how wonderful their friends were to help contribute to Brandon’s dream restaurant. If any of my friends decided to open a restaurant, I am sure I would help out where I could, but some of their friends really stepped up to the plate. Once Delancey finally opened, Molly was the pantry chef for the first four months. It seems like that four-month period was necessary for Molly to understand what Brandon’s dreams were, while figuring out that she could go back to full-time writing. A Homemade Life was published several months before Delancey opened, and after it came out, Molly was kind of stuck in a weird space, so Delancey helped her out as much as it did Brandon.
One of the things that struck me most about Molly and Brandon is how much they were committed to a certain type of restaurant. They didn’t want Delancey to be super fancy or have the typical division between front-of-house (the servers and hosts) and back-of-house (the kitchen crew) staff. They were very adamant about the feel of Delancey and modeled it similarly to Boat Street in Seattle, where Brandon worked as a server when they were engaged and first married. Molly’s description of Boat Street sounds so idyllic:
“I want to say that Boat Street feels like a dinner party. Between orders, the staff clusters in the kitchen, the way guests always do at a good party. There’s a general sense that they know each other well, that they care for each other as much as they care about the food. And in the dining room, where upside-down parasols hang from the ceiling and a chalk drawing of Renee’s late dog Jeffry watches over the bar, it’s easy to feel like a part of it, to feel welcome, relaxed, and taken care of.”
Of course a restaurant is never going to be like cooking in your own home, but for people who care about food and are generally interested in making it in the restaurant world, Boat Street seems like a great model. And it seems like Brandon and Molly achieved the same kind of vibe at Delancey.
Like in A Homemade Life, every other chapter or so in Delancey has a recipe. I like that most of Molly’s recipes in her books (and I assume older blog posts on Orangette) are fairly straight-forward. I am a huge Barefoot Contessa fan, but a lot of Ina’s recipes take a lot of preparation and have random ingredients that I rarely have on hand. I think that’s why I like Molly’s writing so much; she feels like a regular person who happens to know a lot about cooking. Her recipes all sound amazing, and I dog-eared several ones for a possible future dinner party. I can’t wait to try the Sweet-Hot Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder.
I am dying to go to Delancey now, so if I ever make it out to Seattle, I know where we will be eating at least one night. I have said many times before how much I enjoy food memoirs and food fiction, so if you are new to the genre, definitely try both A Homemade Life and Delancey. Also check out Molly’s blog Orangette; she doesn’t regularly post now, but her archives are fun to look through. I did find it interesting that she and Brandon got divorced a couple years ago, but Molly is still involved with Delancey. Even still, I think these memoirs are delightful and easy to read. I really enjoyed Delancey and give it 4 stars.
What are some of your favorite food memoirs or cookbooks? I’m always looking for new ones!