When Felix Leiter orders brizzola for James Bond in upmarket New York restaurant Sardi’s in Diamonds are Forever (1956), Ian Fleming must have guessed that the dish, virtually unknown in the UK, would leave his British readers puzzled. He therefore allowed Leiter to provide a description for the readers’ benefit:
‘Beef, straight-cut across the bone. Roast, then broiled.’ (DAF, chapter 8)
Precisely how the dish is prepared, though, remains uncertain, and anyone wishing to recreate the dish would need to seek other sources. Earl Wilson, a journalist with the Lowell Sun, defined brizzola as ‘charcoal-broiled prime rib of beef with bone intact’ in an article published in December 1971 about Robert Kreindler, president of New York’s famous ’21’ Club. Evidently the ’21’ was well known for the dish. Earl Wilson also reported that President Richard Nixon regularly ordered brizzola when he ate at the club during his visits to New York.
A recipe for brizzola in published in October 1947 in Grosse Pointe News (many thanks to Matt Sherman for the tip) adds further detail, instructing readers to cut half-inch slices from a rib-roast of beef and marinate then charcoal-broil the slices.
The essential quality of brizzola, therefore, is that there are two stages of cooking involved. First, a beef joint, preferably a rib of beef, is roasted. Second, the cooked joint is sliced into steaks, which are then cooked above a charcoal grill or, if unavailable, on a barbecue or under a grill. (But click here for an alternative recipe.)
While brizzola appears to have been a signature dish at the ’21’ Club, elsewhere it rarely found a place on restaurant menus more-or-less contemporary with James Bond’s adventure, and a search of the New York Public Library’s menu archive brings up just a handful of results. Hespe’s Restaurant in Philadelphia included on a menu dated 1941 brizzola steak served with french fried onions, green peas, and O’Brien potatoes (potatoes fried with green and red peppers), all for $1.10. In 1959, New York’s Hotel Algonquin offered ‘broiled brizzola steak’, served with minced mushrooms, green peppers and onions, for $5.75. (Onions and peppers appear to be a standard accompaniment.) The Motor Bar in Detroit served a brizzola sandwich for $4.50 in 1973.
Brizzola, it seems, was somewhat unusual in the US even when Fleming was writing, and since then, the dish has disappeared from the menus. It’s no wonder that Felix Leiter considered the dish to be something special.
Further analysis on the significance of brizzola and other dishes in Diamonds are Forever can be found in my essay, ‘A Happy Selection: The Representation of Food and Drink in the Book and Film of Diamonds Are Forever’, which is published in The Many Facets of Diamonds Are Forever: James Bond on Page and Screen, edited by Oliver Buckton. The book can be ordered, as the phrase goes, from all good bookshops, but if you order the book direct from the publishers, Lexington Books, you can get a 30% discount by using the code LEX30AUTH19.