Iconic restaurants come and go, but comeback sauce has endured 100 years
Published 1:37 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2023
By Kara Kimbrough
I don’t know about you, but when an iconic restaurant closes after decades of serving customers, it’s like the loss of a good friend. So many wonderful restaurants have closed in Mississippi and other parts of the U.S., especially during and after the pandemic. However, as long as a recipe or two from these old friends survive, it’s like a little piece of them still exist.
Last week, I learned about the closing of an iconic New York City area restaurant. I’d never been but had hoped to one day after seeing it in one of my favorite movies. The following day, I received the original recipe to comeback sauce, created in the previous century at a long-time Jackson restaurant that closed down, also before I had the chance to visit.
Email newsletter signup
The lesson I learned from both of these closures is this: if you really want to experience a restaurant, make the time now to go. You never know when it’ll close its doors.
Brooklyn’s “Lenny’s Pizza” became famous after it appeared in the hit movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’ starring John Travolta. In the opening sequence of the movie, Travolta’s character, Tony Manero, orders a double slice of pizza by uttering the famous words, “Two…gimme two!” He eats the two pieces stacked on top of each other while strutting down the street to “Stayin’ Alive.”
Following the release of the blockbuster movie in the 1970s, Lenny’s became a favorite of locals and tourists from around the world who loved to walk up to the take-out window and yell Travolta’s line: “Two…gimme two!” I always imagined myself doing the same, but as of now, there are no plans for anyone to reopen the pizza joint.
It was a bittersweet moment when I realized I’d never get to experience Lenny’s. However, learning about The Rotisserie restaurant’s creation of comeback sauce and being given the famous recipe eased the sting a little.
Comeback sauce is now served in some variation in restaurants from coast to coast, but it actually did originate in Mississippi. Greek restaurateur Alex Dennery opened The Rotisserie in the 1920s in Jackson’s Five Points section near Woodrow Wilson Avenue and the present-day Jackson Medical Mall. Sometime in the early days of the restaurant, Dennery developed a house dressing originally used for salads and called it Kum-Bak, a funny play on “come back.” The feeling was, if customers enjoyed the unique dressing, maybe they’d “come back” soon.
Some have credited the Mayflower Cafe in Jackson as the spicy sauce’s place of origin, but the Mayflower’s owner, Jerry Kountouris, stated in a 2016 interview with the Clarion-Ledger that, “It was The Rotisserie.”
Today, comeback is used as a salad dressing, dipping sauce for fried onion rings, shrimp and chopped vegetables. For many, simple saltine crackers dipped straight into a cool bowl of comeback sauce is the ultimate hors d’oeuvre. What can I say, it’s a Southern thing.
Despite getting the comeback sauce recipe, I’m still sad about the closing of Lenny’s. On my next visit to NYC, I may travel over the Brooklyn Bridge and try to locate the address. I can at least walk by, stand at the window where Travalto stood and snap a photo of the building. I may even shout, “Two…gimme two!”
Recreating memories of The Rotisserie will be a lot easier. I’ll simply pour the ingredients for comeback sauce into the food processor. In a matter of minutes, I’ll have the perfect dressing, dip and sauce.
The Famous Rotisserie Comeback Sauce
(This recipe is at least 100 years old!)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Note: I add more ketchup and chili sauce (about ¼ cup more of each) to mine to overpower the mayonnaise taste.
Mix all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pulse until well blended. Refrigerate in a covered container for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.