Compared to the casual experience in the many restaurants, dining was a formal affair at the turn of the century. Vintage menus offer insight about how much our meal preferences have changed over the last century.
A side order of chow chow was 15 cents. The dish is a North American pickled relish made from a combination of vegetables including green tomato, cabbage, chayote, red tomatoes, onions, carrots, beans, asparagus, cauliflower and peas. This may have been slowly replaced by other relishes followed by chutneys that appear on contemporary menus. Whealets, chipped beef in cream and boiled salmon have all slipped from current breakfast menus which is probably for the best.
Milk toast is a breakfast food consisting of toasted bread in warm milk typically with sugar and butter. Salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, cocoa, raisins and other ingredients may be added. It was a popular food throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially for young children and for recuperating patients because the food was thought to be soothing and easy to digest. Click on any image to enlarge.
The American Hotel menu from October 5, 1855 includes a drawing of the building and elaborate boarders that add an air of formality to something as simple as a daily menu. Ten years later the building would be destroyed by fire on January 25, 1865 and caught the attention of the New York Times which followed the fire for several days.
Wednesday Jan. 25, 1855
“The American Hotel is now on fire. The wind is west, and blowing a gale, and it is howling furiously.
The thermometer stands at eight degrees above zero, which, with the wind, and a driving snowstorm, makes it almost impossible for the Fire Department to work their engines. The steam fire engines can hardly work, being covered with ice.
It is feared the whole block will be destroyed. The loss will be very heavy, as there are a number of stores already in ruins.
…The fire caught in DEIHL’s restaurant and extended to VANVELSOR’s bakery, JENNER’s drugstore, A.S. SHRYVER’s shoe-store and PAUL BUNYON’s confectionery store; thence it spread to the American Hotel, entirely destroying the hotel, the American Hall in the rear, and the following stores on the ground floor: ROSENAW BROTHERS, fancy goods; HOSTETTERS & STRAUSS, dry goods; LORWI & GIRSHOPPER, dry goods and BARTHANER’s barber-shop…”
Three menus follow the same day (July 2, 1901) through breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Statler.
Prices are missing from the Statler Restaurant sequence but another menu from 1900 states “serves 365 days a year, the best 25 and 40 cent meals ever put up by any restaurant for that price. Music Evenings.”
Spelling has also changed over the years. Cocoanut is typically spelled coconut and naturel has morphed into natural. Luncheon has been shortened to lunch unless for special event such as a Business Luncheon. The spelling error on the Bailey Catering Menu is a reminder that imperfections were part of an analog world we have a tendency to romanticize.
Boiled tongue many not become popular again but green apple fritters in rum sauce sound delicious.