A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 11, 2012
“To die for” (an excellent food dish)

"To die for” means something that is so desirable that it is worth the ultimate sacrifice; the saying is usually made in jest. A new car or a foreign vacation or a house might be “to die for.”

An excellent food dish (usually a dessert) is often said to be something “to die for.” The novel David Harum (1898) described a “mince-pie to die for,” but the “to die for” expression wouldn’t become popular until about 1979. An April 14, 1980 classified ad in New York magazine described “Desserts to Die For.” A 1982 issue of Gourmet magazine said, “As the expression goes along Seventh Avenue, the chocolate mousse is ‘to die for,’ ...”

In the 2000s, a blog backlash frequently included “to die for” in lists of overused or annoying food expressions.


(Oxford English Dictionary)
to die for: (as if) worth dying for; superlatively good or highly desirable; extraordinary. Also to die, fabulous, astonishing. colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
1898 E. N. Westcott David Harum xxiii. 209 Oh! and to ‘top off’ with, a mince-pie to die for.
1980 G. B. Trudeau (title) A tad overweight, but violet eyes to die for.
1982 A. Maupin Further Tales of City 96 The guy had this incredible loft‥with neon tubing over the bed and high-tech everything‥to die, right?
1986 Philadelphia Inquirer 11 July e3/2 The dark chocolate is to die for—it actually tastes dark.

Google Books
Esquire
Volume 92
1979
Pg. 81: 
A Latin beat to die for, as they say.

Google Books
14 April 1980, New York magazine, pg. 90, col. 3 classified ad:
Desserts to Die For— A Little Bit of Heaven $3.50. 514 Madison, F/G, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116.

Google Books
Gourmet
Volume 42, Issues 7-12
1982
Pg. 113:
As the expression goes along Seventh Avenue, the chocolate mousse is “to die for,” and a banana mousse cake is much better than it has any right to be.

Google Books
Fodor’s Ireland, 1983
By Eugene Fodor; Richard Moore; et al
New York, NY: D. McKay
1982
Pg. 156:
Leave room for dessert, as their exotic ice cream is to die for.

24 February 1983, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Readers’ Best: Cheesecake wins praise from true dessert lovers” by Dotty Griffith, pg. 2E, col. 1:
Another Dallas reader, Georgine R. Neureiter, sent in a “gem of a cheesecake” which she claims is “to die for.”

2 October 1983, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “A good time game” by Margaret Sheridan, pg. WC4:
Dessert can be ordered at the bar, and the brownie is to die for.

20 November 1985, Boston (MA) Globe, “Let’s talk turkey” by Gail Perrin, Food, pg. 57:
You have a diploma from the Cordon Bleu, your angel food cake is to die for, and even your mother-in-law admits you’re the best cook she has ever known.

A Blow to the Head
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
The Cliche Project: Words and Phrases Food Writers Should Stop Using (an ongoing project)
(...)
7. “To die for.” Reader babette sent this one, and I agree. With the 1980’s behind most of us, we can afford to let this gem go, can’t we? I’m willing to let it in on a limited basis, and only when used in really clever ways, but then that goes for everything on this list. Unless you’re reviewing the first sushi restaurant in Sidney, Nebraska, in which case use liberally.

the delicious life
Sarah J. Gim · May 5, 2007
Top 20 or So Food Words and Phrases That Are Annoying for One Reason or Another
1. to die for – No food is worth dying for. Not even Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dipped in Blue Cheese dressing and hand-fed to me by a half-naked Tyler Florence.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Wednesday, April 11, 2012 • Permalink