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I'm working from home today, so I was seated just a few paces from the front door when I heard a crash I assumed signaled

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Vintage Seattle Menus Surface in Huge New Menu Book

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I'm working from home today, so I was seated just a few paces from the front door when I heard a crash I assumed signaled an impending home invasion.

Turns out it was the FedEx guy, throwing a seven-pound book on my doorstep. The massive Menu Design in America, 1850-1985 has arrived.

The compendium of more than 800 menus is a very serious book, as the tri-lingual text indicates. In his introductory essay, Steven Heller refers to menus as "proof of consummation" and likens the experience of opening one to "the opening of a hymn or prayer book." The book's co-authors suggest menus - a relatively late addition to the fine dining experience, made possible by cheap printing and increased literacy - tell us more than the price of milk toast.

Amateur menu collectors will be familiar with many of the taste-making menus reproduced here, most of which are associated with very big cities. There are isolated examples of menus from Columbus, Ohio and Amarillo, Tex., but menus from New York City and Los Angeles occupy the bulk of the book.

Seattle is represented by seven menus, notable for their odd shapes. Most of the menus in Menu Design in America are plausibly oblong, but only two of the Seattle menus (both from the World's Fair) are the least bit rectangular. Scattered throughout the book are a crab-shaped menu from Frederick & Nelson, a circular menu from The Bung Hole and, most disturbingly, a head-shaped menu used by the Coon-Chicken Inn. As the brief explanatory text describes it, "this menu for a fried chicken chain depicts a caricature of a black waiter. The chain apparently saw nothing racist about its name." The menu is reprinted under the sub-heading "ethnic stereotypes."

From Knight's Diner, there's a green-and-white menu shaped like a trolley. If geometric novelty has any bearing on culinary innovation, Seattle restaurants were clearly ahead of the curve in 1941.

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