Getting Lost in the World’s Largest Stack of Menus

Buttolph would later on obtain menus that predated 1900, she archived thousands of files in the first year alone, consisting of a handmade Valentines Day supper menu from the Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida, that includes a ten-part classical music program performed by an internal orchestra and a French-inspired expense of fare featuring meals like boiled beef à la Flamande, bluefish au gratin with duxelles, and salmi of duck à la cavour.
According to the New York Public Librarys website, about two-thirds of the menus are American, more than half come from New York dining establishments, and many date from in between 1890 and 1910, obtained throughout the prime of Buttolphs archival work. While the menu at Yoshino-ya, situated near Rockefeller Center, featured sashimi, shrimp tempura, eel with tare, and other Japanese specials, it likewise included a prix-fixe sukiyaki dinner that appears geared toward Westerners, with accoutrements you would not anticipate to see on a Japanese menu, like olives and celery hearts.
You may find yourself questioning what “frostfish” is when looking at a Waldorf-Astoria menu from 1901, whether the Beluga caviar for $1.50 seemed costly (hint: its $52.59 in todays dollars, changed for inflation), or how the dining establishment handled to have 9 various species of video game birds on the menu. Even as QR code innovation threatens to render printed menus obsolete, it took place to me that absolutely nothing can replace the texture and poetry of a physical menu.

Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus

After a lunch of mulligatawny soup and roast mutton on a wintry New Years Day in 1900, Miss Frank E. Buttolph struck upon a novel idea. “I stopped in the Columbia Restaurant for lunch and believed it may be fascinating to file a bill of fare at the library,” Buttolph composed in a letter dated February 14, keeping in mind the dining establishment that was situated in Manhattans Union Square.
Quickly after, the distinctive Buttolph petitioned the New York Public Librarys director, John Shaw Billings, to get the librarys assist with maintaining menus from around the globe that she would gather on its behalf. In spite of Buttolphs infamously prickly personality (her tirades against whistling and untidy desks were legendary), the library consented to award her a voluntary position as menu archivist.
Within months, she d filed hundreds of menus at the Astor Library, among the original New York Public Library (NYPL) branches, located on Lafayette Street in the developing the general public Theater now lives in. (The theater named its upstairs restaurant and bar “The Library” as a tribute to its past.) Buttolph would later obtain menus that predated 1900, she archived thousands of documents in the first year alone, consisting of a handmade Valentines Day supper menu from the Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida, that includes a ten-part classical music program performed by an internal orchestra and a French-inspired costs of fare featuring dishes like boiled beef à la Flamande, bluefish au gratin with duxelles, and salmi of duck à la cavour.
Frank E. Buttolph.
The library offered Buttolph no income and no budget. But she kept gathering, even placing advertisements in dining establishment trade and hotel magazines to obtain menus from readers, worrying that their condition should be immaculate. Buttolph could just entice donors with the complete satisfaction of adding to a historic archive, however she continued to receive menus from admirers across the nation and overseas, including one from a London banquet commemorating King Edward VIIs crowning in 1902..
A detailed function in the New York Times on June 3, 1906, anointed her collection the “most interesting range of menus worldwide.” (By then, she d accumulated 14,500 menus.) Buttolph is referred to as “a tiny, unostentatious, literary-looking girl.” She wasnt a foodie, a minimum of not in todays terms. “She frankly avers that she does not care 2 pins for the food lists on her menus,” the Times composed, “however their historical interest means whatever.” In the early days, curious library users might access the collection, however just under Buttolphs stringent guidance. She kept mindful watch over her valuable menus to ensure that their condition would never be jeopardized..
By 1924, when Buttolph passed away of pneumonia at age 80, her collection had grown to an astonishing 25,000 menus, many of them assembled at her own cost. Each one was emblazoned with an official oval blue stamp symbolizing the year it was archived between 1900 and 1923, likely used by Buttolph herself.
A menu from 1932 that consists of the earliest recommendation to sushi in New York City.
Today, the librarys collection has grown to over 40,000 menus. According to the New York Public Librarys site, about two-thirds of the menus are American, majority come from New York dining establishments, and the majority of date from in between 1890 and 1910, obtained during the prime of Buttolphs archival work. The physical files reside in temperature-controlled stacks beneath the librarys flagship Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on East 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan..
In 2011, the library introduced an effort called “Whats on the Menu? In the decades considering that the program started, almost the whole collection of menus has actually been cataloged by category, place, year, and name, covering from 1843 to 2008.
Rebecca Federman, the assistant director for the Center for Research in the Humanities, and her team at NYPL maintain the collection and help users mine the stacks for insights into decades of Americas rapidly changing dining trends. She ended up being thinking about the Buttolph collection while she was in library school after going to an NYPL exhibit called “New York Eats Out,” curated by the former New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes in 2002. She was fascinated by how these historical artifacts might be used to help piece together the evolution of the American dining establishment. “It transfers you back in time,” Federman says. “Youve probably heard of a few of these places. Your grandparents and moms and dads might have consumed there.”.
The NYPL isnt actively getting brand-new menus, however it does sometimes accept restaurant-related ephemera, including 158 boxes filled with archival papers and individual impacts belonging to the late Joe Baum, the renowned founder of the restaurant Windows on the World, that were contributed posthumously. Federman regularly fields questions from academics, scientists, and chefs who require assistance navigating the collection essentially or physically. “Chefs that have actually can be found in are normally thinking about looking at menus for motivation,” Federman says, “to see what older menus and older dining establishments did, and how they can reassess their menu to show todays landscape as a nod to the past.”.
Le Pavillon.
Joris Larigaldie, the culinary director for José Andréss new restaurants that just recently opened at the Ritz-Carlton NoMad hotel, gotten in touch with Federman in early 2022 to assist deepen his understanding of New York Citys abundant culinary history. With Federmans aid, he discovered Ritz-Carlton menus from the Buttolph collection online that dated back to 1913, studying yearss worth of them to inspire new recipes for the menu at Nubeluz, the hotels Art Deco-inspired rooftop bar and restaurant.
Larigaldie was especially interested in popular dishes from turn-of-the-century New York, and he was shocked to find many familiar names in his research study. One dish he discovered consistently on menus from the 1920s was the Mont Blanc– a dessert of thinly piped chestnut puree that looks like vermicelli swirled over a round meringue base and dotted with whipped cream to look like the snow-capped French Alps.
In a 2012 exhibition called “Lunch Hour NYC,” Federman and culinary historian Laura Shapiro unearthed a Japanese menu from 1932 that consisted of the earliest referral to sushi they might find in New York City. While the menu at Yoshino-ya, located near Rockefeller Center, featured sashimi, shrimp tempura, eel with tare, and other Japanese specials, it also included a prix-fixe sukiyaki dinner that appears tailored toward Westerners, with accoutrements you wouldnt anticipate to see on a Japanese menu, like olives and celery hearts.
Federman sought advice from the librarys reverse telephone directory to find the dining establishments address and found out that it was only open for a year, on a block of West 47th Street inhabited by services that accommodated predominantly Japanese clientele. “Whats good about having the menus here at the library is that we have these other resources to draw from to understand the larger story,” she says.
Paul Freedman, a professor of medieval history at Yale and the author of Ten Restaurants That Changed America, credits the Buttolph collection with stimulating his interest in restaurant history. While doing research at the NYPL for his book, he discovered bound volumes from the Fifth Avenue Hotel that included over 5,000 menus that changed daily from 1859 to 1881. He and a dedicated group of scientists and students combed through the menus one at a time, logging every dish to ascertain the most popular items over a twenty-year duration. “You could see what people thought about to be high-end cuisine in the 19th century, which included things that individuals no longer consume when theyre affluent, like pigs feet, canvasback ducks, and terrapin,” Freedman says..
Luchows from the 1940s.
Freedman sought advice from other menu archives from around the nation, however the Buttolph collection, without a doubt the largest, supplied a wealth of menus that assisted him narrow his list of the most influential American restaurants. These consisted of some Buttolph originals, like menus from New York Citys oldest dining establishment, Delmonicos, and others that were obtained later on from locations like the Four Seasons, Le Pavillon, Mamma Leones, and the Mandarin.
When Scott Alves Barton was an accessory professor of food studies at NYU between 2010 and 2021, he looked for the menu collection for ideas about dining habits throughout the Harlem Renaissance, particularly exploring the influence of West Indian and African food on renowned dining establishments and jazz clubs like Mintons. “The Black-owned ones had things you would not see acted as much today, like hog moss and chitlins, more range cuts,” says Barton. “The white-owned dining establishments had more continental meals, and the style or stylish dish at the time was chop suey in places like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom, where Black individuals carried out however could not eat in.”.
While the collection was restricted in its breadth of menus associated with the African American diaspora, Barton discovered that the librarys archives contained volumes of the Green Book– Victor Hugo Greens guide to assist Black motorists securely find restaurants and lodging while traveling– going back to 1937. The Green Books contained chests of valuable data about what kind of restaurants were popular amongst Black travelers at the time. In early editions of the guide, readers would see advertisements for mostly Black-owned services, like Harlem on the Hudson, a dining establishment and lounge in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, that served Creole food, and Rodgers Dining Room in New Rochelle, New York, which proudly boasted “The Best Southern Fried Chicken.”.
When I went to the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books in the Schwarzman Building in late October, Federman and her associates assembled a file of menus for me to analyze that consisted of among the oldest traditional restaurant menus in the collection, an 1843 lunch menu from the Astor House identified “Ladies Ordinary.” (According to Federman, women were usually presented with various menus than men throughout this era.) It also consisted of a spotless menu folder from a French pop-up called The Restaurant Française that opened in Queens throughout the 1939 New York Worlds Fair that was gotten after Buttolphs death.
The broad mahogany desks inside the reading room are surrounded by antique books ensconced in glass windows. Most of the books seem like they have not been touched by human hands for years.
Le Restaurant Français from 1940.
You can feel the weight of history when handling these historical artifacts– the oldest and most fragile are sheathed in protective Mylar. It makes you wonder where the stains came from if a menu is stained. What did the original possessor of the menu order? I thought of New York Citys hungry denizens delighting in unknown meals like “pigs knuckle in jelly” or “calfs head with brain sauce.” You may discover yourself questioning what “frostfish” is when taking a look at a Waldorf-Astoria menu from 1901, whether the Beluga caviar for $1.50 appeared costly (hint: its $52.59 in todays dollars, adjusted for inflation), or how the restaurant handled to have 9 different types of game birds on the menu. If youre curious what Chinese food in America was like in 1904, the collection has responses.
In the subsiding years of her life, Buttolph had differences with the librarys leadership. She was dismissed from her voluntary role in 1923, a year before her death on February 27, 1924. In her last main letter to the library, she composed, “For many years my library work has actually been the only thing I had to live for.
Buttolph herself most likely never ever pictured restaurants ending up being so central to American pop culture, as they remain in New York City especially, but her instinct to chronicle their increase was prescient. With her menus in my hands, it became simpler to comprehend the fixation. Menus supply a window into history, an essential connection to our foodways. Even as QR code technology threatens to render printed menus obsolete, it struck me that absolutely nothing can replace the texture and poetry of a physical menu. No matter how much dining establishments have actually altered in the century because Miss Buttolph lived, the humble menu has actually sustained– as the diners very first impression, a statement of the chefs intentions, and a love letter to the hunger.

Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus

Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus
Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus
Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus
Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus
Getting Lost In The World’s Largest Stack Of Menus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.