Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Willis Morgan

ca. 1928

Willis Morgan was among the several hundred thousand African-American soldiers sent to France during the First World War. Born in Marshall, Texas in 1877, Morgan worked as a chef in railroad dining cars and Harvey House restaurants prior to becoming a mess sergeant in the U.S. Army. He served in the Philippines, on the Mexico border, and finally on the Western Front. After the Armistice, Morgan settled in Paris as part of the small but steady stream of Black Americans attracted by wartime memories of French racial tolerance. He opened the Chicago Inn at 31 Avenue Bourdonnais in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Later renamed the Chicago-Texas Inn, the restaurant was a popular tourist destination in the Jazz Age. A scarce menu from the late 1920s reveals the down-home American cuisine at this welcoming restaurant where Morgan’s French-born wife worked the cash register while their pet cat looked on from his favorite spot nearby. 

The Chicago-Texas Inn also hosted celebrities like Jimmy Walker, New York’s flamboyant mayor. The 1927 guidebook How to Enjoy Paris advised: “When the time comes that you are just plain homesick for some American cooking, when the very excellence of all the French chefs has made you feel you are a long way from home, go see Morgan . . . America has certain things to be proud of gastronomically.” The bill of fare shown below, which is printed in French and English, features comfort foods of the era such as liver and bacon, sausages with wheat cakes, and corned-beef hash topped with a poached egg. The house specialty was chicken Maryland, a pan-fried chicken dish served with white cream gravy. 

The daily specials on this hand-written insert include a whole broiled lobster, roast turkey, and pumpkin pie. 

Around 1930, the Chicago-Texas Inn moved to 6 Rue Duphot on the Right Bank, where it was situated across the street from the seafood restaurant Prunier and only a stone’s throw from the fashionable shops on the Place de la Madeleine. Shortly thereafter in 1934, Morgan died from appendicitis at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine. 

 1. The menu will be included in a public exhibition titled “A Century of Dining Out: The American Story in Menus, 1841-1941” at the Grolier Club in New York City, opening in May 2023.

1 comment:

Jan Whiataker said...

Quite a find! I would have thought edible corn would be difficult to get in Europe. Hope to see the Grolier exhibit.