Food historians currently have to visit the Central Library's Seattle Room to learn what was served at the Dog House or Rosselini's 610. But a library intern who this summer expressed interest in making the menus more accessible was given the go-ahead to put a small sampling of the menu collection online.
"It's just a piece of the collection (A-C), and it may be awhile before we add anything new," reference librarian Bo Kinney cautions via e-mail. "But there is some neat stuff in there."
Restaurants covered by the pilot program include Canlis, represented by a 2000 menu featuring Fuji apple and spinach salad; Cyndy's Chalet Pancake and Steakhouse and The Barb. Researchers who browse the collection can track the popularity of chocolate decadence cake (offered in Beasey's Back Room for $3 in 1985); lament the demise of the lo-cal beef patty and cottage cheese plate ($3.95 at the Sheraton-Renton in the 1970s) and wonder how many banana daquiris were downed at Casa Lupita, one of Seattle's first Mexican restaurants.
Kinney hopes the creation of a new Special Collections position - funded by the recent successful library levy - will allow staffers "to ramp up our digitization efforts."
Meanwhile, the library continues to collect menus. Since the library doesn't have the manpower or budget to launch a formal collecting effort, it relies on donations from diners to expand the collection's scope. And it's not only looking for old menus, or menus from special occasion restaurants.
"Fifty years from now, the menus of Terra Plata or Ting Momo will be as interesting as those of Rosellini's 610 or the Dog House are today," Kinney told me last March, when Ting Momo was still in business.
Menus from Tom Douglas' short-lived Tibetan dumpling venture are now far harder to obtain, but there's a copy safe in the library's collection. That's because I donate all of the menus I collect in the course of reviewing to the library. While I probably pick up more menus than most casual eaters, you don't have to write about food to snag a take-out menu when you leave a restaurant: The library would happily accept any menus you've acquired during your Seattle culinary explorations.
"Restaurant menus provide a wealth of information about the social history of a city," Kinney says. "The type of food, the prices, even the graphic design can tell us something about our changing cultural identity."