I made some thrilling new discoveries in our ephemera files: Menus! We are lucky enough to have several of them and I am now on a crusade to expand the collection. These menus give us a fascinating glimpse of culinary history and menu design in New York City's most populous borough.
Social clubs had great menus, not just for the food that was offered, but also for their artwork and general frivolity. Some menus were just that - a menu in its most common form, describing what the food for the evening would be. But this beautiful menu from the Montauk Club highlights the dishes that would be enjoyed for the Subscription Dinner to Ladies on Tuesday, March 27, 1894 with fine artwork.
This vibrant illustration--the teaset, the delicate flowers and folds of the lady's dress--is accompanied by a second menu issued the same evening, illustrated with a gentleman in matching outfit of top coat, wasitcoat, breeches, and stockings. I wish I could dress like the Montauk Club lady.
It is after my usual lunchtime, and my stomach is growling over this menu. Each course is written in French, and we start with Shinnecock Oysters from Long Island. We continue with cold and hot hors d'oeuvres, potages, (one being Clear Green Turtle soup), Kingfish, spring lamb, fancy ices, biscuits glacés, coffee and bonbons. Truly a feast!
The second menu comes from the Union League Club, which attracted wealthy Brooklyn Republican party members. This menu was created to celebrate the 99th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, the hero of the Union and the Republican party.
The menu was included in the program for the evening of February 12, 1908. After the list of dishes are pages that include portraits of the guest speakers for the evening and lines from Lincoln's speeches and letters. On the last printed page is a poem dedicated to Lincoln, and opposite, an image of Lincoln's statue in Prospect Park. The final pages of the program are reserved for autographs (although ours has none.) I have only included half of the menu here, but I think it gives a good representation of the whole. I wish menus today tempted me with lines from Shakespeare's plays and quotes from Voltaire! None is paired more perfectly than that of the Currant Jelly - Feel, masters, how I shake. - Henry IV. I see myself chomping on a cigar (which is listed on the second half of the menu) and am suddenly distracted by a crystal bowl full of quivering currant jelly.
Like the menu for the Montauk Club, this menu offers Green Turtle Soup. I am an adventurous omnivore, but I've never had the opportunity to eat turtle soup. In case anyone would like to make this recipe for their own celebration of Lincoln's birthday, I found a version of the recipe in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online. It is a little graphic in its description, giving explicit instructions on shell removal. Brooklynites seemed to like it but I will, however, skip it.
The spectacular New York Public Library Menu Collection, much of it donated by Miss Frank E. Buttolph, is housed at the New York Public Library. Here you will find not only some beautiful examples of menus, but also links to other historic menu collections around the country.
I keep menus from restaurants that I have fond memories of -- the tasting menus from Rosewater Restaurant in Park Slope; the spring menu from LouLou in Fort Greene - one from a particularly happy birthday dinner. The going away party at Clemente's Maryland Crab House in Sheepshead Bay - this celebration was twofold - my best friend was moving away to Cleveland AND it was the weekend that the final Harry Potter book came out. I brought the book with me to sneak a few pages while riding on the subway and the menu acted as my bookmark. It still smells like Old Bay seasoning.
If you have menus from Brooklyn restaurants that you would like to donate to our collection, please send them to The Brooklyn Collection, Attn: Archivist, Brooklyn Public Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn NY 11238.