Gone But Not Forgotten Restaurants: Christ Cella

June 29th, 2011 § 109 comments

Christ Cella was a New York steak house on East 44th that was a lure for athletes and big eaters. At lunch one day, HG spotted the late Howard Cosell, boxing promoter Don King (of the electric hair) and that deadly jump shooter, Jerry West. HG stopped at West’s table and told him he was forgiven for all the bad things he did to the Knicks. Jerry was amused.

HG always had the same two meals at Christ Cella. In the fall and winter (HG did not dine there in summer, preferring lighter victuals): A scotch sour (freshly squeezed lemon juice); lobster cocktail with Remoulade sauce; New York strip steak (Christ Cella had the all time beefiest, best and biggest steaks in the civilized world) accompanied by salad with Roquefort dressing. Beverage was black and tan (Ballantine India Pale Ale mixed with Guiness Stout—half and half).

In spring HG replaced the steak with a platter of grilled shad, shad roe, bacon, home fried potatoes, sharp tartar sauce and cole slaw. HG never had dessert. Heartier souls knocked off giant portions of New York cheesecake. The admen in the restaurant preceded their meal with two or three martinis.

Yes, indeed, happy drunken high cholesterol days. Those martini drinking, cigarette puffing guys are, of course, a memory like Christ Cella itself.

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§ 109 Responses to Gone But Not Forgotten Restaurants: Christ Cella"

  • Elisabeth Cella says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am Christ Cella’s great grand-daughter. I am sitting here on a Sunday morning wondering about my great-grandfather, I did not know him, or his son. Your words brought a tear to my eye because it is so special to have a description of that place. I have tried to imagine it, nobody in the family talks about it. Thank you for remembering. Ellie

    • Gerry says:

      Christ Cella was a very masculine restaurant. Everything was of the highest quality, cooked simply and perfectly. The steak was the best in New York which meant it was the best in the world. Peter Luger’s and “Steak Row” restaurants paled in comparison to CC. You bear a distinguished name.

      • Ann says:

        I was searching for Christ Cella’s tomato/onion/roq. dressing recipe, and found your site! I use to live on 46th St. in the 80’s, and CC was my fav restaurant. My husband wondered why? I said your exact words, quality, simplistic and consistently good food! Plus all the beautiful men! I was sad to hear it closed! Why? It was so masculine. I loved everything about the place! I loved the old Oak Room in the Plaza! I was last there 2002! In the 2+ foot blizzard at Christmas time! Memories….:)

      • Denise says:

        Would anyone be interested in a matchbook from CHRIST CELLA ~ ONE SIXY EAST FORTY-SIXTH STREET~NEW YORK, N.Y. 10017. 697-2479 – 61st ANNIVERSARY MAY 8, 1927 MAY8th,1987

    • Killian Collins says:

      Ellie,
      My father used to eat at Christ Cellas every time he came home, from LA to NYC.
      In the sixties he tried to partner up with Dick Cella to open a restaurant in Beverly Hills, but they couldn’t find the proper chef, and eventually the notion fell by the wayside.
      Walter, my dad, once enjoyed a dinner in the kitchen, at the chefs table… Where he met Alfred Hitchcock.
      He loved to tell stories about dinning there. It was, without a doubt, his favorate restaurant.
      Sadly, I never had the opportunity to dine there.

      • Gerry says:

        Whenever HG reads about “creative” chefs, foams, food injected with nitrogen, juxtapositions of odd ingredients, etc. HG thinks about Christ Cella. Straightforward. Robust. Perfect. At Chirst Cella, they bout the best and treated it with respect.

      • RF says:

        The chefs’ table: Was taking some clients to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium, preceded by a meal at Crist Cella. No room up front, so we filled the chefs’s table in the middle of the kitchen. Steaks right from the grill and extensive baseball chatter with the kitchen team. Service might have slowed a bit up front, but lots of laughs in the back. We arrived late for the game.

      • Christopher Cella, II says:

        I am the grand son of Christ Cella, Ellie is my daughter. My dad, Richard Thomas Cella, USAF Ret (passed on some 8 years ago) never spoke of his family to his sons (I have a younger brother, Richard Brannon Cella). I grew up kind of like “wolf boy”, knowing nothing of my origins and prior family. I never knew what part of Italy Christ Cella was from (although I have been asked). I am grateful to learn more of Christ Cella (although I am named after him … he died before I was born, I never met him). I knew Ellie Cella (for whom I named my youngest daughter) until I was 3 … unfortunately, she was given a massive transfusion of the wrong kind of blood during an otherwise fairly ordinary gall bladder operation … she passed on, as I say, when I was three. I am looking to learn more of the family and I am looking to learn more of Christopher Morley. Chris.Cella.RE.Broker@gmail.com

    • Harrison Hunt says:

      Elisabeth, I am working on a short biography of Christ Cella, especially regarding his connection with the author Christopher Morley and his circle. Would be happy to share information with you. Harrison Hunt

    • Paul Vermylen says:

      According to my mother, my grandfather was a great fan and patron of Christ Cella. He passed away in 1953-I was 7, he 53. When I became a young banker in NYC in the 70’s, I was priviledged to enjoy many dinners at Christ Cella and loved thinking about a man I’d barely known. Other favorites of his that evoke the same were The Oyster Bar at GCT and Charles a la Pomme Soufle (long gone). Christ Cella steaks were legendary, but don’t forget the creamed spinach!

      • Gerry says:

        Yes, Paul, everything was great at Christ Cella. You brought back a wonderful memory by mentioning a la Pomme Souffle. Those airy, crispy, flavorful potatoes were extraordinary. When the restaurant closed, I would get my pommes souffle fix at the Oak Room of the Plaza. A bit pricier. Thankfully, the GCT Oyster Bar still lives. I never miss their oyster pan roast when I am in New York. Always dine at the bar in order to watch the magical preparation.

        • Bob says:

          Before moving to E. 44th, wasn’t Christ Cella on the West Side, just off 5th Ave. in the 40s or low 50s? I seem to remember eating there a number of times but, as an ink-stained wretch of the 4th Estate, I could not afford to eat there regularly, although I certainly would have liked to. Thinking about Christ Cella also brings to my mind Toots Shore’s. Long, long ago days.

      • richard johnson says:

        Every time I think about Christ Cella, I’m reminded of their next-door neighbor, Don’s East, a place sometimes visited by restaurant patrons who might have over imbibed and wanted some ‘female company’

      • Lukishi Brown says:

        I frequented Charles A La Pommes Souffle many times when I was a little girl.
        They served the most magical fried pillow shaped potatoes served in a basket made of bread and weaved potatoes. WOW. The memories

    • Alfred Kildow says:

      Hi, Elizabeth:
      Hard to imagine Cella has a great-granddaughter. It seems like only yesterday. . . . Many lunches. Too many to remember. It was the 1960s. More than once lunch extended seamlessly into dinner. It was the best restaurant in New York, and he, and his staff, were the best also. You bear a great name with pride.
      Alfred Kildow

    • Christine says:

      Dear Elisabeth,

      My father was privileged to work at Christ Cella as a waiter from about 1960 to 1982.
      It was a spectacular place, the best of the best.

      Your great-grandfather was remembered and revered. His memory was cherished.

      Your grandfather, Brig. General Richard Cella was a giant of a man, in many ways. I met him once and will never forget him. The entire staff loved him. He treated everyone with respect. Needless to say, every famous person, presidents, movie stars, athletes, royalty walked through those doors. Christ Cella catered the meals to Pope John Paul II when he visited NY in 1979.

      As General Cella brought his sons to the restaurant on many occasions, my father met them and always commented what fine boys they were. So, one of them is your father.

      I know your grandfather eventually married Ivana and later retired, I think to Jacksonville. After he died, several of the waiters tried to keep in touch with her but lost track.

      I’m sorry you don’t know much, but you came from a great family even if there were flaws and sadly, breaks in the relationships. They made NY better. Be proud of where you came from. Best regards.

    • Jim McCoubrey says:

      I have very fond memories of eating at Christ Cella. I lived in Toronto,Canada and London,England and used to visit NYC on business and if asked where I’d like to go for dinner,it was always Christ Cella.
      Great place !

    • Robin Grover says:

      Elisabeth – pardon me, but I saw your post here. I used to take legal clients to Cella’s each time I traveled to NYC on business trips in the 1980s and early 1990s; wonderful steak and well worth the price. I met General Cella several times there, he always remembered me from my childhood. I grew up with two of his sons, Richard and Chris, in West Windsor Township (Princeton Junction), NJ. Richard was in all of my classes from K thru early high school (Chris was about 2 years older), when he went to private schools and we lost touch. Being Memorial Day, I was actually thinking of Richard earlier today (nice coincidence and I searched the website) as I remembered Richard as was one of the very few of my then-teen contemporaries who not only expressed condolences, but wrote me a letter when my older brother Tom was killed in Vietnam 45 years ago. A good, and very interesting family; I remember Gen. Cella in the 1960s giving a slide presentation at the church we attended on piloting passenger aircraft in Africa in the 1930s. I remember in the 1970s when American Express used to do the “Do You Know Me??” ads; your grandfather was in the print version in Time and elsewhere with a quote something to the effect that if you had to ask the price of dinner at Christ Cella’s, you shouldn’t be eating there! Well-done.

    • RF says:

      Two friends from Paris wanted a real New York steak. Just before July 4th weekend. Took them to Crist Cella where I was a regular. After drinks and the excellent lobster cocktail starter, John, the maître d’ apologised, “We’ve run out of steaks. Underestimated the pre July 4th crowd.” What to do? I promised them steaks. “I booked a table for you at The Palm. Forget about the drinks and lobster cocktails. On the house.” We had steaks at the Palm, but just that once. I continued as a Crist Cella regular. A club, a really good club.

    • Chris Boone says:

      Hi Elisabeth,

      If you are Christ Cella’s great grand daughter, I think that makes us third cousins. Christ Cella and my great grandfather Emil Cella were brothers. Emil lived with their parents Antonio and Maria in what is now the Little Italy section of Baltimore Maryland.

      I didn’t learn about the Christ Cella restaurant until I started doing some genealogy research a few years ago. My family didn’t mention the restaurant either despite a few of them having had the opportunity to eat there before it closed in 1995. I’ve been able to collect two plates and a spoon from Christ Cella over the last few years but it would have been nice to have been able to experience it given all the fond memories people have gone out of their way to share here.

  • Lee says:

    From 1976 through mid 80’s I had lunch a few times a year at Chris Cella’s. The owner of the company where I worked, Mr. Z, was a personal friend of Mr. Cella (I would imagine Elisabeth’s grandfather). They were both pilots and Mr. Cella had visited Mr. Z’s house in Mexico. The steaks and fish were always great. I enjoyed the sliced toamto salad with the Roquefort dressing. The tomatoes were great all year around. At the time it was like a mens’ social club. I don’t think I ever saw a woman at lunch ther until after the early 80’s. We usually requested the “kitchen table”, it was right in the kitchen, so you could talk without worrying that any of the other diners would hear you. It was a large scrubbed oak table (no tablecloth) and sat about 6-8.

    • Gerry says:

      You are right. Lunch was men only. My wife didn’t like it. She met me for lunch once and said she was treated rudely. Times changed. For the better, says HG.

  • Christ Cella’s was for a long time one of my father’s favorite restaurants, and we ate their fairly often. I remember it as a great place to get good food that wasn’t overly dressed up. I wish I could go back and visit it now and maybe revive some of those faded memories.

    wg

  • Wolfie says:

    Gerry:

    G-d bless you for the memories.

    I’m sitting here on a lonely Sunday afternoon In Manhattan after going through some old boxes of match books.

    I happened to pick up a Christ Cella match book and wondered if the restaurant was still around since I hadn’t seen or heard it mentioned since I moved to NYC last year.

    I Googled it and found your article.

    My late wife and I frequented that wonderful establishment throughout the late 70’s and into the 80’s. We loved STEAK and she would never pass up a great tomato/mozerella salad if it was on the menu :-).

    Years after her death, I have finally made the move to Manhattan-a city we had both always loved but were never able to immigrate to.

    Unfortunatley, I am slowly discovering that too many of the great eating establishments that we so enjoyed visiting together are no longer with us :-(.

    There are, to be sure, many fine “new” restaurants in New York City, but I can’t help but feel that we are all worse off when we witness the demise of restaurants such as Christ Cella.

    Our cultural history is important and restaurants have always been a way to connect one generation to the next.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Wolfie

    • Gerry says:

      You sound like a lovely, discerning person and I value and appreciate your comments. You put it very well: “Restaurants have always been a way to connect one generation to another.” I try to do that, in a modest way, and I am glad you think my efforts are meaningful.

  • Marianne says:

    I am now 65 years old and when I was a child my grandfather and I would go to Christ Cella! He would have steak and I would have lobster! This is where I learned to eat a lobster down to the “bone”! The memories of those meals and nights together are so special! Another restuarant he loved to take us to was the Brussels, do you have something about that wonderful place too?

    • Gerry says:

      Only dined at Brussels once. Have a very fond memory of mussels in a creamy sauce accmpanied by great pommes frites. Restaurant was originally on E. 56th and later moved to E. 54th. The boss was Andre Pagani and the menu (if I recall correctly) had a reproduction of the famous Manneken Pis.

  • Anthony Shaw says:

    My adopted dad and I ate at Christ Cella once – massive salad, lobster cocktail and truly great steak. Whatever we had for desert was incredibly huge. I recall the walls were stark white plaster (fittingly as Christ Cella was reportedly a plasterer) and covered with black and white photos. When asked for a menu, the waiter said “We have steak, lobster, lamb chops, . . .) It was so down to earth, masculine (gone are the days) and comfortable. For the time (over 20 years ago) it was expensive – but well worth the memories. I’ve gone to Palm for over 10 years but since Big Al the GM is now gone, probably no more. Ah – NYC.

    • Gerry says:

      Yes, Christ Cella was a supremely masculine place and unescorted women were treated rudely. My wife despised their attitude. However..when it came to unadorned quality Christ Cella was number one. I dined there scores of times with friends and business associates. Their steak was supreme…and so (in season) was their shad with shad roe and bacon. When I am in New York and want to be a carnivore, I go to Keen’s (for the mutton chop) and Spark’s (for great steak and one of the best wine lists in town.)

  • marlene says:

    My husband frequented Christ Cella’s due to its high ratings from rest. critics. I recall the fine treatment I as a woman received whenever we dined.In those years I did not have expensive diamond sor furs as we were newl y married. I was in awe of the regular patrons who seemed to have been married for years. We were told by some staff certain couples ate dinner there every night the place was open. Since then we have tried Palm and Smith and W, but our hearts are with CC.

  • Rick Theobald says:

    Living in San francisco, I took my bride, Randi, to Christ Cella’s for lunch in 1980 to celebrate a long forgotten business milestone of some sort, …swordfish, asparagus and a magnificent bottle of chardonnay…. We’ve talked about that wonderful lunch for 32 years….A great memory.

    • Gerry says:

      How very nice. As you discovered, Christ Cella (though identified as a steak house) served great, fresh, simply prepared fish like swordfish, shad (in season) and salmon. HG’s favorite was shad with shad roe and bacon.

  • THOMAS BRODEK says:

    I DON’T HAVE THE SLIGHTEST IDEA WHY, AFTER ALL THESE DECADES, I WENT ON THE CHRIS CELLA SITE.
    IN 1962 MY BRIDE AND I HAD A SECOND DAY OF MARRIAGE DINNER, AS BOB CELLA’S GUEST, AT THIS FABULOUS RESTAURANT. WE HAD FLOWN FROM L.A. ON OUR WAY TO BERMUDA. ON OUR RETURN, BOB TREATED US TO DINNER AND TICKETS TO ‘HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS’. WE’LL NEVER FORGET THE RESTAURANT NOR BOB, NOR THE SINGLE THAT WAS HAVING DINNER OPPOSITE US, ARTHUR GODFREY.
    THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

  • Dan says:

    I lovedall of your comments! I’m a bottle collector & going through some of my ‘swizzle’ sticks , came across a cobolt blue one with the advertisement “please don’t break me but take me home’ ‘ CHRIST CELLA 144 E 44 ST. NEW YORK CITY’ & was woundering how old this swizzel stick was, if someone would be so kind to email me.
    It’s a piece of history & I would like to retain it along with a trans script of your thoughts! Thank you kindly Dan ‘The Glue Man”

    • Gerry says:

      Envy your ownership of the swizzle stick. Christ Cells opened during the 1940’s, i think.

    • Brigitte says:

      Jay Jacobs reviewed Christ Cella in the July 1975 issue of GOURMET Magazine. The restaurant was located at 160 East 46th Street at that time. Richard Cella tells Mr. Jacobs during the course of their conversation that “we’ve been in business fifty years and at this location for twenty”.

  • Robin Grover says:

    Very interesting and informative comments. I used to stop at Cella’s for lunch when I traveled to Manhattan on business; took clients there, the steaks were wonderful. Not cheap, I seem to remember the American Express magazine ad, something to the effect of “if you have to ask the price of lunch at Cella’s you should take your Amex card with you”. I grew up with Chris Cella’s sons Richard and Chris in central NJ in the mid-1950s to early 1970s); their father, who was the son of the original owner (also named Christ Cella) ran the restaurant for several decades until it closed. He had been a very distinguished aviator in World War 2 (I believe he flew with Doolittle’s Raiders and had been a Pan Am pilot before the war and I believe he ultimately achieved rank of Brigadier General and got a top aviation award from the Government of Italy). The last time I ate lunch at Cella’s with clients, he was screaming at the waiters for lousy service; I wish more restaurant owners had the gumption to do this. Christ Cella’s restaurant was in the tradition of the old Delmonico’s, steakhouses which put the current chains to shame.

    • Gerry says:

      Yes. It was expensive (for its time). But, worth every penny. You paid for quality. And, you got it.

      • kate says:

        My father worked many years at Christ Cella until it closed. He had great stories of famous and not so famous guests. I still have the personalized autograph from the late Lucille Ball he proudly brought home for me. My father has since passed and coming across this article brought back great memories. Thank you!

    • Richard B. Cella says:

      Dear Robin, this is Richard Cella Speaking. I grew up with you and went to the Dutch Neck school with you and all our friends. It would be interesting to catch up with you.

      • Robin Grover says:

        Richard – after I posted an early response to “Elisabeth Cella’s” inquiry, I noted your response to my post from two years ago! Good to hear from you! Nardo Aswchalom (his new name is Dr. Len Antaris) sponsored a dinner for “alumni” of Mrs. Dalton’s sixth grade class at Dutch Neck School back nearly three years ago. It was on the Friday nite of NY Marathon weekend in 2011 (I was working as a finish line marshal that Sunday morning) and that Saturday nite was the PHS 40th reunion. Anyway, he was able to gather him, me, Peggy Priory King, David Fry, David Lee, Ron Hendricks (lives and works in China) and Claudia Fogelin, along with Mrs. Dalton (now divorced, remarried with a new name). This lasted about 4 hours and Mrs. D, a wonderful and most creative teacher, had kept report cards and a statement we wrote summarizing our experiences at the end of the school year in 1965 (I read mine, silently, and was appalled). I am a trade lawyer and have lived in the DC area since 1975 where I started as a briefer for the Joint Chiefs in the Intel Center/War Room of the Pentagon; subsequently got my law degree with interludes in Chicago, Charlottesville and perhaps thousands of business forays in the US and abroad. I was engaged for several years to a Russian woman in St. Petersburg 22 years younger than I but we did not marry. My beloved dad died five years ago, Mom is doing fine and in her 90s. West Windsor now has about 6 times the number of people there when we grew up; your old homestead is yet to be developed!

      • Mary Helen says:

        Richard, This is Mary Helen Griffin, now from Vermont. Came across this post looking for updates about past Florida friends. I am happy to see that you and Christopher seem well. I often wondered about you, and where life led. Evidently, it led us all away from Florida!

  • […] was number three in HG’s ranking of New York steak eateries. Number one was the much missed Christ Cella (alas, long closed) and number two was Spark’s (still thriving). HG has never been fond of […]

  • I work at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) where on Feb. 5th we dedicated the Sumner M. Redstone Production Building. The Chair of the SCA Board of Councilors Frank Price, who is the former head of Columbia Pictures, gave a speech where he mentioned Christ Cella. I hadn’t heard of the restaurant so I looked it up and found your site. I thought you’d get a kick out of Mr. Price’s anecdote, so please find his remarks below (I got his permission to post them and I posted the whole speech because I hate posting anything out of context).
    My thought when I head the anecdote was “that must have been one great meal” and based on all your comments I am convinced that it was!

    Frank Price:

    “Sumner Redstone and I first met at a great steak restaurant in Manhattan called Christ Cellas. I had just become head of Columbia Pictures. We met because there was a long standing dispute — a lawsuit– between Sumner’s theatrical exhibition company and Columbia that had just ground on unpleasantly.
    Sumner and I cut through the issues and came to an agreement before dinner was over.
    I formed an enduring admiration for Sumner that night. He’s probably the smartest guy I’ve met in show business and I worked for years for Lew Wasserman, who set a high bar. Sumner built National Amusements with the best quality theaters and the best locations. A movie that played in Sumner’s theaters always benefitted from the best possible presentation.
    I learned later that Sumner, as a Harvard College student during World War II, was on the team that cracked the secret Japanese code and turned the war in our favor. He put in three years of intense, complicated work that he couldn’t reveal even to his family. That experience fueled his drive to find new ways of doing things and to excel spectacularly.
    That’s clearly reflected in the stellar success Sumner had had in the entertainment business, turning his theater chain into the giants Viacom, Paramount and CBS.
    I stand here in my role as Chairman of the Board of Councilors of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. A key Board responsibility is to help the school meet its educational goals by making sure it has the resources it needs. Thank you, Sumner, for your generosity in making sure these stages will be here available to students and that they will be always be ahead of the curve by being equipped with the latest technologies.
    Years ago, Sumner paid me a great compliment by suggesting that we explore a partnership and form a movie production company. Timing and circumstance weren’t right at that time, so regretfully we couldn’t pursue that. I’m delighted that we’re now joined in this production — of helping to make the School of Cinematic Arts be all it can be.
    And now I turn the podium over to two other School of Cinematic Arts Partners. They need no introduction so I won’t give them one. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.”

  • Richard Swart says:

    I was looking up a recipe when I found these wonderful reminiscences about Christ Cella.

    When I was a media cub at BBDO at 383 Madison in 1959, Christ Cella was a plum lunch spot for those magazine and newspaper reps who loved food and drink. Occasionally, I was taken along. What an experience… I was googling ‘liver steak bacon Christ Cella’ and this blog came up.

    The 50’s-60’s may have become the bad olde days in social retrospect, as have become the tweed all-male New England college campi of those days. However, coat-and-tie bonhomie over drinks and excellent food in a club-like setting was and remains in the aged cells of my 78 year old head, an experience I savour.

    Thank you. Christ Cella.

    Dick Swart
    Hood River, Oregon

    • Gerry says:

      Yes, Richard, Christ Cella warms my 83-year-old heart. Seems we both have managed to overcome those days of high cholesterol feasting.

  • Alfred Kildow says:

    My great friend Harry Schmeck, who was a pioneering science writer and reporter at the New York Times for decades, died this week. I was thinking about him and recalled a fantastic lunch we had at Christ Cella in about 1990.

    We met at noon and decided to reprise all of the old lunches of the past. So we started with martinis — at least two each — and progressed to thick steaks and baked potatoes, washed down with a bottle or two of wine. Just before the after-dinner drinks arrived, Harry said to me:

    “You know the first time I was in this joint? My father brought me here when I was a teen-aged lad. This was his regular hangout.”

    His father was an adman in New York in the 1930s and 40s. I ate there regularly in the 1960s and always had great meals. I especially remmber the martinis, which. . . .

  • Al Peras says:

    My dad, Tony was a waiter at Christ Cella for over 25 years. He took great pride in providing the finest customer service. As he would say, “people will always pay a premium for top quality food and service”. The old term “you get what you pay for” certainly rang true at CC. As a youngster, I remember him coming home after work and making himself a “highball” his Dewars and club soda. He would recall the names of some of the CC customers; Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Gleason and Bob Hope. Along with Wall Street titans and NY politicians. I was especially fond of the NY creamy cheesecake and Cavana Napoleon. Those were the days………….

    • Gerry says:

      I hope I had the privilege of being attended by your Dad. CC was a steak house and the steaks were incomparable (much better than touted Peter Luger’s). My favorite dish, however, was the springtime special: Grilled shad with shad roe, bacon, tiny parsleyed potatoes. I always drank scotch sours at the bar while my table was set. The best scotch sours. Why? Because at CC good scotch was used but, in addition, high quality fresh lemons were squeezed for every drink. Attention was paid to the details that made a difference.Your Dad was right. CC charged top prices (for the time) and provided top food and service.

  • Steve Peras says:

    My dad Tony had worked at Christ Cella for over 30 years. He retired in 1985. Mr. Cella had hired many Istrians (Italians from Pula after the war). My uncle Cosimo was the chef in charge of the fish. Pete Salomon was in charge of the meat. His brother John, Gildo Pezzulich, Sudolich were some of the staff that served you. Lillo Cama and Tommy Vernazza were at the door to greet you. When I got my driver s license, I used to go pick up my dad during the summer and chair up at night. WHen I became a Banker, I had brought my guests there for dinner. Without any doubt it was the best steak and lobster house in NY: To finish your meal the dessert cart was exceptional. I recall Christ Cella being located on 46 ST between Lex and Third opposite the garage. Frequented by Vice President Agnew, several of the astronauts and well known business members. Great place, great food and great people that prided themselves to make it a memorable experience.

    • Gerry says:

      Steve–CC was located on E. 44th. Forget whether it was between 2nd and 3rd or 3rd and Lex. Thank you for the background information. Indeed it was wonderful–including the dessert cart even though I never had anything but the cheesecake.

  • George says:

    Fond memories of CC. When I first moved to NY my partner introduced me to CC and we spent mostly every Thurs night there, meeting for drinks and almost closing the place with tea and cheesecake. The staff were 1st rate. I still walk by the building and recall so many fond memories.

  • John says:

    In the fall of 1974, I was in 5th grade and traveling to NYC for the first time with my parents. Coming from the Lone Star State, I was accustomed to things being bigger in Texas. The city in general and CC in particular turned that point of view on it’s ear. To this day I recall walking across a checkered tile floor and being seated in a back room at a round table on the left. I remember ordering the filet mignon and getting the tallest, thickest and tastiest piece of red meat I’ve ever had. Atop this wonder sat an equally impressive mushroom cap. The others at the table ordered either lobster or the filet, and all thoroughly enjoyed the food, service and atmosphere. That trip included 5th row orchestra seats to my first broadway musical: Pippin, starring Ben Vereen. As you might imagine, it was not long before I was begging to return the the Big Apple!

    • Gerry says:

      Glad that I brought back happy memories. Re: Pippin. Roger Hirson wrote the book of “Pippin.” My wife and I produced Hirson’s play, “World War Two and a Half” off-Broadway. Unlike “Pippin” and Christ Cella steaks, this was not a success.

  • Rod Heckman says:

    Do you recall the upstairs room for private parties? As I remember it, one entire wall was a mural depicting a famous naval battle. Was it the Battle of Midway? In my memory, in the center was Christ Cella himself, resplendent in full military dress uniform. I believe he was a Brigadier General, and an accomplished aviator. Can anyone share their memories of this room?

  • Bill P says:

    I ate at Chris Cella about a dozen times with my boss who loved martinis. I seem to remember one of the deserts made at the resturant was napoleons. Am I thinking of another resturant? If someone remembers please let me know.

    • Gerry says:

      Drank many a martini (and Scotch sour) at Christ Cella. Never saw anyone eating a Napoleon. Dessert of choice was very good New York-style cheesecake.

      • Harrison Hunt says:

        Friends of mine — Sherlock Holmes buffs — ate at Cella’s in the ’90s (before it was sold) and baffled the waiter by ordering for dessert six napoleons, even though there were only five of them. The reason: There is a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Six Napoleons.” So yes, they served napoleons.

    • Grant Varga says:

      You are exactly correct.
      Basically there were only two desserts at CC. Cheesecake or Napolean. In season there might be Strawberried with whipped cream. Every item and every ingredient at CC was the best I ever had.
      I ate there hundreds of times on an expense account and got to know the upstairs waiters very well. So I’d have them put strawberries on top of the cheescake with whipped cream! Was total decadence.
      BTW, desserts were not made at the restaurant. Both were imported in cardboard boxes labeled from the Bronx.

  • Richard says:

    My father took me to Christ Cella in 1959. My first (and still best New York steakhouse experience.) No menus. Wonderful service. The best steak I have ever eaten. The freshest vegetables – asparagus and broccoli each in a large soup bowl covered with melted butter. Home fries – nothing has ever come close. No room for dessert. The only drawback which I didn’t realize at the time was that at age 15 I was too young to join my father in the Beefeater martinis.

  • Gisele Colletti says:

    Ellie, my husband used to work at Christ Cella around early to late 80’s. Is there anything you’d like to know about the restaurant or the owners? Be happy to help.

    • Grant Varga says:

      Yes, can your husband tell us whatever he knows about the cheesecake? Where exactly it came from and who made it?
      Very heavy, creamy and decadent through and through!

  • Russ Vrakepedes says:

    I’m the husband mentioned above. I worked in the office between 81 and 89. Richard Cella always wore a dark suit. I was told it was to mourn his father. It was great when he would tell us old war stories. He once said something like..”nobody told me not to land my P-38 2 feet into the ground”. And he had a joke that ended with…”Yes, Fokkers are airplanes. But these fu#kers where Messerschmitts”. I remember a photo of him standing on the wing of an airplane. In big block letters painted on its side read, BIG DICK.

    Except for the cash register, which was always only, and I mean only, just a few cents off. The books where always balanced. That’s right! Always balanced. If the rows and columns of the ledgers was off by a penny, you looked for it. That’s how they trained you. That’s how you did it.

    The patrons were business men. Big deal makers, hard drinkers, big eaters and had deep pockets.

    The wait staff was mostly older european men. No women.

    The coffee was half brown half black.

    The food was expensive. But they did buy the best quality.

    Ok. I’ll end with my favorite story. Two younger business men, both regulars and from two very large companies, where loudly and purposefully commenting on an older business man, also a regular, and his young, pretty female dining companion. The older gentleman called the maitre d over and told him to tell them. If they don’t stop? I’m going to buy both of their companies and fire them. They stopped.

    • Gerry says:

      Yes, CC was great. My weekly lunch there: A Beefeater martini.Lobster salad. Rare New York Strip Steak. Roquefort salad. Ballantine Inia Pale Ale. No potatoes. No dessert. The perfect meal.

  • Gisele Colletti says:

    Bill P, there was a mille-feuille cake which was layers of pastry and custard. It was either square or rectangular and when it was sliced it looked like an individual Napoleon. Good stuff!

  • Gerry says:

    Giselle–Sure that was a great dessert. But, I never had anything but cheesecake (if I had room).

  • Richard Bondy says:

    My father was a Christ Cella regular, and I was lucky to have dined there with him quite a few times in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He always ate in the upstairs dining room. (He told me that the preferred customers were seated upstairs.) Somehow I knew that it was a NYC law that all restaurants were required to have menus with prices. Of course, a menu was never to be seen at Christ Cella. But if you looked behind the coat rack to the left at the top of the stairs, there was a well-worn mimeographed menu taped to the wall.

    Once, when my older sister was single and working in NY, she and my mother were to meet my father at Christ Cella for lunch. My father and sister arrived together and were having a drink while awaiting my mother. A waiter named “Joe” always served my father at the restaurant. After a long wait and a second round of drinks, my father called Joe over and mentioned that he was expecting his wife and asked if she’d called in to say that she was delayed. Joe got quite embarrassed, and admitted that they were keeping my mother waiting downstairs all this time. Clearly, they assumed that my father was there with a mistress and didn’t want his wife showing up! Christ Cella really knew how to take care of a valued customer!

    It is sad indeed that this icon of a restaurant is no more!

  • Richard Bondy says:

    Another great NYC Italian steakhouse was Pietros. It’s still in business, but at a different location. It was in the 40’s, near 2nd Ave. Located on the the 2nd and 3rd floors, there was a long stairway leading up to the bar and the Maitre d’. Reservations were accepted, but they didn’t mean much. I remember one night, walking in to discover a long line stretching halfway down the stairs, everyone with drinks in hand. As soon as we took our places at the back of the line, the people in front of us asked, “What are you drinking? We told them, and a few minutes later a couple of Jack Daniels were being passed back down the line to us.

    Only in NY…

  • Steve Rosoff says:

    I remember eating at Christ Cella’s with my father and grandfather sometime in the mid- ’70s. Yes, amazing steaks and cream spinach! Recently, I found a 50-year commemorative ash tray from the restaurant with the dates May 8th 1926 – May 8th 1976. (My late mother collected and occasionally confiscated restaurant ash trays.)
    Speaking of Pietro’s, my Dad would take me there before Rangers’ games at the Garden. They served up the most incredible pasta with broccoli rabe.

    • Gerry says:

      My favorite Pietro’s meal: A primo of spaghetti with broccoli rabe and a veal chop main. Pietro’s and a hockey game. You must have had some great nights.

  • Ahhh…Christ Cella! I grew up in New York, with parents who were gourmets and often took us out to great restaurants so that we could experience the way food was truly meant to be prepared. As such, while I was still in high school, I had dined at places like Lutece, the Four Seasons, and the original establishments of Joe Baum and Restaurant Associates.

    But when it came to steak (and despite having been on a number of occasions to Peter Luger, Gallaghers, Old Homestead, Delmonicos, and Gage & Tollners) THE apotheosis of steak was, I raised to understand, Christ Cella. The name was spoken with reverence, and although I only dined there a few times, the place which the restaurant occupied in my mind as a youngster was something like that of the Queen of England.

    It is truly delightful to read all the memories this blog is bring up. Thank you, HG!

    • Gerry says:

      David–You had the proper gourmet education, one not available to this generation of eaters. What made Christ Cella so special was the concentration on simplicity and quality. An example: I usually had a whiskey sour at the bar while waiting for my table. I asked the bartender why these were so special. He replied they used the best quality lemons and squeezed a fresh one for every drink.

  • Jay Goldstein says:

    No idea what made me look up Christ Cella’s today, but so glad to come to this blog. My father (an attorney) regularly went to Christ Cella’s – for any big occasion or, especially, to impress a client. We heard about Christ Cella’s for years and then my sister and I got our first taste in the mid-70’s (my 6th grade graduation and her 9th). After that, we always asked to go.

    We probably got to go 4-5 more times. We learned what a true steakhouse was “meant to be”. I remember the maitre d’s (Johnny and Lelo – if he was there I always got to have a “Lelo Salad) – and I remember the celebrities. One time we sat next to Mike Wallace. And another time we walked by Joe DiMaggio and Lelo brought me over to get his autograph. It was quite a place

    Nice to have all these comments to remind me of some fond memories

  • Matthew Casamassima says:

    Casamassima & Sons Ice Co. , serviced Christ Cella’s , along with all the great restaurants in the area , including Bruno’s Pen & Pencil, Joe & Rose, Danny’s Hideaway, Pietro’s and my favorite, The Palm . I was fortunate enough to work on 44th and Third for MW Kellogg and many times surprised my bosses, able to get reservations, when they could not ! It was only because of my Family’s association with these spectacular eateries.I remember distinctly, the mixed salad w/roquefortshrimp cocktail ,the steak and creamed spinach! All spectacular ! A classy establishment that held it’s dress codes and one evening when the Palm was on vacation, we went to Christ Cella’s and they supplied me with a waiter’s jacket , as the Palm had relaxed their dress code ! Pity, that this type quality and service are seriously , in short supply . I treasure those memories !

  • Anthony Brown says:

    Frequent stop for lunch in the 1960s. Great steak & creamed spinach & too many martinis. Added treat when the General was in residence. Wonderful memories!

  • cerrato says:

    Christ Cella the mount rushmore of nyc restaurants…Ginos, Pietros the Palm, those were the days, it’s over though…enjoyed it memories for a lifetime…on to chipotle grill SAD..

  • John A. Barnes says:

    My in-laws knew Ivana well. She used to come over to their apartment fairly regularly. She knew I was a writer and trid several times to interest me in writing a boo about the restaurant. I always demurred, figuing that with the restaurant no longer there, the book would be a tough sell. After ready the above comments, I wonder if I did the right thing.

  • James Lowell says:

    Christ Cella steakhouse is alive with me. Dined there in the late 1980s, in my view the best in the city, then or since. The standup bar, the quiet tables. No menu of course. A fabulous strip wheeled out to your table on a cart and presented by a male waiter, brusque but not gruff, warm but not friendly as in my name is x silliness. A lasting, delicious, meaningful experience. Where have all the flowers gone? JRL

    • Gerry says:

      Ah, James. Tears on my cheeks. Christ Cella was the best. Once asked the barman why their scotch sours were so good. “I squeeze fresh lemons for every drink. Nothing bottled or fake.” That sums it up. Quality and honesty.

  • Gail A. says:

    In the early 1960’s I used to fill in at times as the hat-check when needed. What wonderful memories of a grand place and elegant customers.

  • John Danis says:

    Not much to add here except to say I also have very fond memories of CC. Ate there every time I was in NYC. Maybe 4 to 6 times a year for the big art auctions at Sotheby’s and Christies. Always ended my meal with a Napoleon. Great waiters, never wrote anything down. Saw my share of celebrities. Took fiends there once, didn’t know one of the ladies was a vegetarian, the kitchen didn’t miss a beat, put together a great meal, she said she could now say the best vegetarian plate she ever had was at a steakhouse!

  • IVANA CELLA says:

    I AM IVANA CELLA, THE WIFE OF THE LATE RICHARD THOMAS CELLA AND THE MOTHER OF RENZO CELLA. CHRIST CELLA RESTAURANT WAS LIKE HOME FOR US WE ALL WORKED THERE AND I REMEMBER ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE THAT WORKED FOR US AND MANY OF THE CUSTOMER..THANK YOU GERRY FOR THE MEMORY.. …SINCERELY IVANA CELLA.

  • Elihu Sussman says:

    I came across this web page recently and wanted to add my fond memories of Christ Cella. My dad who was born in 1904 used to eat here when the restaurant was on 44th St. When i was a teenager he used to regale me with tales of how wonderful the food was and the ambience etc. As an adult and after I got married my wife and I used to eat there when it was on 46th St. Among other occasions we would always eat there to celebrate our anniversary. Once we were there and were chatting with a couple at the next table and mentioned that we were celebrating our anniversary. Dick Cella and his wife were having their dinner in a corner of the dining room and overheard us. They sent over a split of champagne gratis! What gracious hosts! What wonderful food. The restaurant is sorely missed

  • Stephen W. Palmer says:

    When I worked for the New Yorker Magazine in the 60″ it was a lovely place to dine.
    Johnny and the team always took good care of myself and friends, weather it be for lunch, that liver steak was great, as was everything else from crab to spinach salad.
    It has been many years of travel for me, at no time in this world has there ever been
    a better steak, scalopes, or anything up for grabs. Waiters were most pleasant as they told you the lunch or dinner options. Some of my greatest memories. Many thanks to your family.

  • Paul says:

    I moved to midtown Manhattan from 77 – 80 from England and was introduced to a huge number of restaurants for business lunches. Two stand out in my mind. One was Il Menestrello on 52nd Street, and the other was Christ Cella. I recall three dishes distinctly (there was no menu as I recall). The service was amusingly abrupt and to the point and very efficient – not “what do you like?” but “how do you like it cooked?”! My starter was always a superb crispy bacon and dressed spinach salad, the main was a huge Porterhouse steak (the only option was how rare you wanted it – they refused to cook medium or above as I recall!) – and dessert a traditional NY baked cheesecake which was probably the best I ever tasted anywhere.

    Perfect dining memories – simplicity and quality – why did it have to close?!

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