Sunday, December 19, 2010

Meatless Monday: And Everyday at Claire’s Corner Copia

This is Claire Criscuolo. She is standing still in her restaurant, Claire’s Corner Copia, in New Haven, CT, just long enough for Don to take her photo for my Meatless Monday column. Claire’s Corner Copia turned 35 years old this Fall. For most of those years every dish served at the restaurant on Mondays, and on every other day of the week, has been meatless.

When it opened in 1975, Claire’s was a tiny restaurant in the former location of a KarmelKorn, a corner store known for being a late night haunt of Yale students and street people with the munchies. Good food had decidedly NOT been happening there. Claire Criscuolo, RN, soon changed that. 

In the introduction to Claire’s Corner Copia Cookbook (published in 1994) Claire writes about how the restaurant has evolved over the years. Claire, her husband Frank, and other family members were its first employees. While her first soup was vegetarian (Vegetable Bean), Claire did prepare meat and poultry until 1977, the same year in which she banned smoking and hired her first paid staffer. Tuna salad persisted as a menu item until sometime in the last decade, but with the exception of meat without feet, Claire’s has observed Meatless Monday every day and in every way for over three decades now!

Claire has both boundless energy and a heart of gold. According to a recent article in the Yale Daily News, Claire traditionally donates 10% of the restaurant’s profits to charity. But in celebration of the restaurant’s 35th birthday Claire upped the amount to 35% of her profits from September 17-October 20. Two local charities, determined by customer votes on Facebook, each received a check for nearly $1100. 

Over the years Claire has become an advocate for local food and an activist for healthy eating. She has served on a number of important panels and was instrumental in bringing the Growing Connection and EarthBox Gardening to New Haven. Since 2007, she and Frank have been growing organic arugula and heirloom tomatoes in their home garden, Giardino del Mare.

Claire's Classic American Vegetarian Cooking: 225 New and Favorite Homestyle Vegetarian RecipesClaire's Corner Copia Cookbook: 225 Homestyle Vegetarian Recipes from Claire's Family to YoursWe have known Claire ever since she first opened. In those days we ate soup or split a piece of Lithuanian coffee cake when we splurged on a meal out. As the restaurant grew and became slightly less funky, we brought parents there for dinner before attending the Shubert Theater. Then we added a family member, and Claire’s was one of the earliest child-friendly places, equipped with sturdy highchairs, so guess where we brought the baby? Claire’s later became the place to grab a seat near the window to enjoy a coffee and a little something for a treat after nursery school or some downtown shopping. The years have passed, but Claire’s is still a favorite haunt, with friendly faces, healthy and tasty food, fair prices, and always something new to try. When we went there for a quick brunch on Sunday with friends (whose daughter worked there in the ’80s), who was there but Claire!

Claire’s was named one of the Top 10 Heart-Healthy Restaurants by in 2010 and is also kosher, two more reasons to drop by. Let me just issue one warning in advance of your visit. The portions are large, and the food delicious. Come hungry and with a friend or you may have to choose between a meal and a dessert. 

If you can’t make it to New Haven, check out the cookbooks. Those who once lived here and have fond memories of Claire will find many familiar recipes there. You just have to love someone who writes, “If we can ever change the world, and I know we can, it will be through our good work — Together!” That’s Claire. 

Claire, here’s wishing you a very happy belated birthday. Downtown just wouldn’t be the same without you!

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”


  1. Elaine, Love the post and Claire's restaurant. It was the first restaurant we visited when we were considering our move to NH. Just got a copy of the Corner Copia cookbook for my wife for Christmas this year and wondering if you have any favorite recipes in at that you can recommend.

  2. Rod, thanks for the kind words. I have a well-worn copy of the cookbook you mention, autographed by Claire soon after it was published in 1994. Our favorite recipes are easily recognized by the wrinkles in the pages. They include: Moroccan Sweet Potatoes (Don's favorite), Curried Tofu Salad, Mexican Rice, Oven-Roasted Potatoes and Peas, and Applesauce-Spice Cake. Claire even gave away the recipe for her Lithuanian Coffee Cake, but I still enjoy having this for a treat at the restaurant. I'm sure your wife will love the cookbook. Please post your favorites. Merry Christmas!