Trying to persuade my husband to accompany me on my first visit to Brass Tacks, the subject of this week’s review, I pulled up the Georgetown restaurant’s menu on my phone. (So long as a restaurant offers a steak and Caesar salad, I can usually rope my husband into going.) But knowing there was beef on the menu wasn’t enough to persuade him: He wanted to know exactly what kind of food the restaurant served.
“Seattle food,” I assured him.
I wasn’t sure he’d have any idea what I meant. Yet I’ve apparently dragged him on so many reviews that my description made sense.
“So there’s frisee and beets?,” he asked.
Never in my life have I heard my husband say the word “frisee.” He was right, though: Brass Tacks serves baby beets with pistachios, housemade ricotta and frisee. With the mildest prodding, he was able to guess most every other dish on the menu, too: He came up with the poutine; burger with a fried egg; pickles; marinated olives; mac-and-cheese and the half chicken with rosemary and garlic.
The food at Brass Tacks is very good, but – as I wrote in my review – the menu is predictable to the point of parody. It’s as far from timeless as any local menu, with nary a dish that didn’t surface on a 2013 restaurant trends list. In a few years, of course, Brass Tacks’ deviled duck eggs and roasted artichokes will seem just as dated as the stewed prunes, lima beans and sliced tomatoes which appeared on thousands of menus in the mid-20th century.
So far as I know, nobody’s yet compiled all the contemporary menus listing sliders (Brass Tacks makes its unassailable version with Oregon lamb), but food scholars curious about bygone culinary cliches can consult the terrific “What’s On the Menu?” website administered by the New York Public Library. The library’s team of volunteer catalogers has indexed 392,137 items on 16,812 menus, creating an invaluable database of dishes which can be sorted by popularity.
Coffee leads the list, with mentions on a whopping 7591 menus, but the impressive numbers attached to foods including boiled potatoes, littleneck clams and Edam cheese gives some sense of those vittles’ former ubiquity. Even better, each item is accompanied by a timeline charting its frequency by year and a scatterchart showing where on the menu it was most likely to be listed.
If you’d like to help the library with its massive transcription project, you can join up here. And if you’re more interested in the here and now, check out my Brass Tacks review here.