Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Suprême of Shark

New York City, 

This illustration fills the interior of a menu from the 1884 banquet of the Ichthyophagous Club.1 Active in New York from 1880 to 1887, this group of socially prominent men met once a year to feast on various types of unpopular seafood, endeavoring “to overcome prejudice directed towards many kinds of fish, which are rarely eaten, because their excellence is unknown.”2, 5 In addition to ichthyologists, who worked in the branch of zoology dealing with fishes, the club comprised naturalists, philanthropists, and gourmets. Indeed, the seal in this cartoon is holding a bottle of Cordon Rouge champagne. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Spectacle of Horror

New York City, 

It was a beautiful Wednesday morning on June 15, 1904, when mothers and youngsters from Lower Manhattan’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany) gathered at the pier adjacent to East River Park. They had arranged for a passenger steamer named the General Slocum to transport them to a picnic ground on Long Island’s North Shore. A thousand tickets were collected at the plank—a number that did not include 300 children under the age of ten. Soon after they departed however, as the ship passed 97th Street, the crew saw puffs of smoke rising through the wooden floorboards. When they tried to put out the blaze, the rotten fire hoses burst. One newspaper described it as “a spectacle of horror beyond words to express—a great vessel all in flames, sweeping forward in the sunlight, within sight of the crowded city, while her helpless, screaming hundreds were roasted alive or swallowed up in waves.” Most of the 1,021 people who died were women and children. A rare menu from the General Slocum, hauntingly dated to the day after the accident, recalls one of the worst disasters in American history. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

O Sweet Grows the Orange

1852 & 1859 

The Burns Club of Boston used to host a banquet on January 25 each year to commemorate the birth of Robert Burns. When the birthday fell on a Sunday, the celebration was moved to the following day, as shown by this menu from the Stackpole House in 1852, two years after the club was established. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Halcyon Days of San Quentin

Marin County, California

One of the most intriguing things about old menus from San Quentin State Prison is that they were saved as mementos. The legendary prison, situated on the north side of San Francisco Bay, was established to hold miscreants during the Gold Rush. Over the years, it has grown large enough to warrant two ZIP codes—one for inmates (94974) and one for Point San Quentin Village (94964), an adjacent community originally built to house the prison’s employees and their families. The menus mostly come from the period between 1928, shortly after the East Block opened (now described as a crumbling, leaky maze) and 1940. A dozen menus and related ephemera take us back to this bygone era when the guards enjoyed the gustatory pleasures of the table.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Welsh’s Times

New York City, 

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; 
— ’Tis a menu and nothing more! 

When Edgar Allan Poe was writing for the New York Evening Mirror in the mid-1840s, he and other newspapermen congregated at a nearby beer cellar and eatery known as Sandy Welsh’s. Situated at 85 Nassau Street, around the corner from P. T. Barnum’s American Museum, the popular hangout was called a “refectory” in the city directories. Poe produced his poem “The Raven” at small intervals during this period, reportedly submitting the stanzas piecemeal for criticism to fellow journalists at Sandy Welsh’s.2 The convivial spirit of this establishment is reflected by a menu dated February 12, 1847, offering a rare glimpse of everyday life that would nevermore be the same. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Wiltons Revisited


In the previous post, a menu from Wiltons in 2001 was shown with reflections by journalist R. W. Apple, Jr. who ranked this upper-class restaurant in London as one of his all-time favorites. Apple believed that some of its finest seafood dishes were those “least messed around with…perfectly simple, simply perfect and entirely sufficient.” He also felt that this venerable establishment served the best English food in England. Certainly, the traditional cuisine, the elegantly-subdued décor, and the female staff uniforms (evocative of a Victorian nanny) all blend together into a harmonious whole, reflecting the epitome of what many of us regard as Englishness. However, back in 2005, if you passed through the swinging doors into the kitchen, you may have heard French being spoken. The dinner menu below from September of that year is signed by then executive chef Jérôme Ponchelle.

Thursday, August 25, 2016



While cleaning out the attic this weekend, I came across a box filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines. One of the articles I’d forgotten about appeared in the New York Times in October 2006. It was written by R. W. Apple, Jr., an associate editor who had died earlier that month. Known to friends and colleagues as “Johnny,” the celebrated gourmand recounted ten of his favorite restaurants during many years of travel. Reading this piece anew, I was pleased to see a place that would also be on my short list—Wiltons in London. Excerpts from the article are shown below, along with a menu from the period.