Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Emergence of New Orleans Cuisine


“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and 
New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” 
– Tennessee Williams 


In the late nineteenth century, the burgeoning wealth of the upper classes fueled a social revolution in eating well when away from home. Culinary tourism got a jump-start in New Orleans during the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884-85. Visitors were introduced to Creole dishes that blended French, Spanish, West African, and Choctaw influences, among others. Seemingly overnight, the unique cuisine and signature cocktails of New Orleans became major tourist draws, marking a pivotal moment in the city’s gastronomic history. The first Creole cookbooks were published the year the fair ended; and eventually one of the finest French restaurants in New Orleans would create new French-Creole dishes to lure the well-heeled visitors back.1,2 Eighteen menus between 1905 and 1917 reveal the extent to which regionalism was expressed in public dining spaces at various levels of society in the years leading up to Prohibition. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Inimitable Menus

1902-1909


A little over two decades ago, staffers for an incoming president were looking for White House menus from the turn of the last century, attempting to imitate Theodore Roosevelt’s style, although not his substance; ironically, the ideals of the new administration were unlike those of the Progressive Era ushered in by Roosevelt. Still, it was understandable why the politicos wanted to re-create the aura of a time when American confidence was running high. While their efforts proved futile—printed menus were not then used at the White House—Theodore Roosevelt was enthusiastically fêted by the citizenry whenever he was away from Washington. His popularity is revealed by the size, complexity, and sheer exuberance of the menus from these occasions, as shown by four examples spanning his presidency. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Gentleman Boss

The White House, 
1885 


President Chester A. Arthur was a tall and fashionably-dressed metropolitan who enjoyed the finer things in life. Once the highly-paid Collector of the Port of New York, Arthur artfully dispensed patronage jobs over the course of his political career, causing him to be called the “Gentleman Boss.” His brief tenure as Vice President ended with the assassination of James Garfield in 1881. Although the 
dignified spoilsman “looked like a President,” it can be said without exaggeration that nobody in the country, regardless of party affiliation, thought he could rise to the occasion. Arthur was even distraught at the idea of having been elevated to the highest office in the land. Making the best of his predicament, Arthur had the White House redecorated in accordance with his aristocratic tastes, and installed a French chef named Alfred Cupplinger from New York.  A recently-discovered menu provides rare evidence of one of the high-water marks of presidential cuisine. 

Saturday, January 6, 2024

The America's Cup

New York City,
1895


The most entertaining thing for the average person attending an America’s Cup race is perhaps the food and drink. Once in a while, one of the sailboats comes into view on 
the horizon line, only to disappear again. Between these sporadic sightings, the day-trippers bob up and down on the open sea, wondering what’s for lunch. It was different in the nineteenth century when spectators were allowed so close as to possibly interfere with the action. The most controversial America’s Cup took place in 1895 when the sloop Defender, owned by three members of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), was pitted against Valkyrie III from the Royal Yacht Squadron. Much has been written about this contest that later descended into acrimony. A menu reveals what was served to eat on one of the observation ships, and sheds light on why onlookers are now kept at a distance.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel

New York City, 
1881 


Schedler’s High Bridge Hotel was located in Washington Heights, the highest and northernmost part of Manhattan. The hotel was so named due its proximity to the bridge that spanned the Harlem River as part of the Croton Aqueduct.1 After the walkway atop High Bridge was completed in 1864, the 
sparsely-populated area became an enjoyable place to take a stroll on a pleasant afternoon or evening. Two menus from Schedler’s in 1881 provide a rare glimpse of the social activity in this upper-class enclave dotted with luxurious mansions and single-family homes. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

The Menu was the Message

1904-1931 


The advent of the postcard provided the hospitality industry with innovative ways to advertise. One of the unique formats that emerged i
n the early 1900s was the attachment of postcards to menus. This concept was particularly suited to table d’hôtel menus that did not have prices. Once ubiquitous, table d’hôtel menus were still being used at hotels and resorts that operated on the so-called American Plan, meaning room and board were included in the daily rate. Such hostelries traditionally promoted the abundance of their board to attract guests, something the postcard-menu combination was ideally suited to do.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Dining in Prospect Park

Brooklyn, New York
1897 


Brooklyn’s pastoral Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the landscape architects who created Central Park and Riverside Park in Manhattan. Opened in 1867, Prospect Park was substantially complete in 1873 when a financial panic halted further development. Some of the originally-envisioned structures, such as a terraced restaurant, were never built. Instead, two of the existing buildings were utilized for food service. The park was restored in the 1890s during the City Beautiful movement, and it was during this period that the park commissioner decided to appoint a new concessionaire. His goal was to make the restaurants more “fashionable” while still maintaining low prices for the general public. The recent discovery of two menus from about 1897 reveal what this plan looked like when put into action.