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Sweetbriar ribs
Photograph: Courtesy of Sweetbriar

Six menu items with secret ingredients at NYC restaurants

These spots won’t fish and tell.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako
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Does food taste better, are drinks more intoxicating, is the air simply sweeter if something about it is a little secret? There’s a reason why speakeasy-inspired bars are so popular even though alcohol is legal and why entry-level adventure seekers are thrilled by restaurants with absent apparent addresses. 

At a time when so much of the world’s information is available via pocket-sized devices, it can be exciting to discover something that seems a little less known. Not surprisingly, closely-guarded recipes, ingredients, techniques and preparations are a treasured part of NYC’s dining scene. (Some of them are so famous we can hardly believe they’re still trying to hide ‘em.) Here are a few such secrets you can try to suss out right now. 

  • Restaurants
  • Prospect Heights

NYC hospitality pro Randi Lee first developed his Bloody Mary recipe in 2007 and added it to the then newly-introduced brunch menu at Leland last year. It includes the expected staples like tomato juice, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce, but has proprietary methods to make ingredients in house. “Keeping our recipe secret means that you can’t find it anywhere else and keeps it special,” reps say. “A famous NY restauranteur tried to buy the recipe from Randi for $5,000 and he declined the offer to keep it a secret.” A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, drenched in vodka, indeed. 

  • Restaurants
  • Eating

Three of this dish’s key ingredients are right in its name, but the whole plate, including its accompanying coleslaw, has 26 more. “It’s always nice to surprise people with interesting flavors, create little moments they weren’t expecting,” says executive chef Bryce Shuman, who developed his secret recipe when he was delivering ribs from the back of his Subaru during the pre-vaccine pandemic. Dig into a rack to see how many flavors you can identify.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Lenox Hill
  • price 2 of 4

The famous “Frrrozen” Hot Chocolate has been on Serendipity3’s menu for decades, and its vegan version was introduced late last year. Its ingredients include “a secret mix of cocoa powders, powdered sugar and cream of coconut, blended with ice,” reps whispered. “Keeping ingredients "secret" adds to the mystique and ensures that no one can replicate it. . .The secret we can share is that the cocoas are a mix of dutch-processed and natural cocoas." Maybe Serendipity3's certified Instagram Thing will share a little more.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chelsea

This single-item restaurant by chef Laurent Tourondel is dedicated to–well it’d be more fun if you just guessed–also has a not-so discreet “secret” menu of seasonal vegetables, burgers and sides, but it does closely guard its meat marinade, according to the New York Post. What could be in the secret sauce causing lines to reportedly accrue out the door? The intrigue grows. 

  • Restaurants
  • Red Hook

Though recollections are not facts, a cursory internet search seems to support our memory that Red Hook Tavern’s best burger list-topping options were built on buns of ambiguous origin back when it first opened in 2019–a secret shared with Peter Luger, which served as inspiration for this very item. Whether they still are must remain an enigma, as messages to the restaurant were not returned. Mysterious! 

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