Golden Oldie Menus – Dinnertime!

This is the last post in the series related to old time menus from the Golden Age of train travel. After this, I’ll have to find something else to write about, unless I can find some menus and then all bets are off. But, first, the bar menu. I found a copy of the bar menu from the Super Chief when we were staying at La Posada in Winslow, AZ. (Town motto: There’s No Place Like Home, As Long As Home Is Somewhere Else). Unfortunately, due to my quasi-legendary inability to take a decent photo, I can tell what’s on the menu only if I use the kind of photo interpretation tools that analysts at the NSA use to look at reconnaissance satellite imagery, and I still need to squint really hard. It’s best for all concerned, that I don’t paste a copy of one of my pictures into this post, since there is a possibility that gazing too long or too hard at one of my photos can cause the kind of delusional reactions that the protagonists in H.P. Lovecraft’s books always experienced just before they went incurably insane.

The liquor listings themselves aren’t all that interesting. The menu contains all the usual suspects, though with a little less emphasis on name brands. Actually, no emphasis on name brands, at all. Which is fine, I think the fact that you can have a martini while riding a train through the mountains of Colorado is pretty cool, in and of itself, and is probably not going to be measurably improved if you were drinking Ketel One vodka, regardless what the ads say.

No, what I found most fascinating about the bar menu was the inclusion of so many things that weren’t actually cocktail or cocktail related. Like the extensive list of antacids, such as Alka Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer and something called Pluto. Using the power of the Intratubes, I found out that Pluto is an effervescent crystal used as both an antacid and a gentle laxative (which is, sadly, no longer produced). That’s right, you get two, two fast effects in one! I am curious though, in what situation would one require both of these palliative effects at the same time? In my half century, so far, kicking around the country and the world, I can safely say that I have never encountered a situation where I said to myself, “Self, I would be ever so happy if I could soothe this indigestion and relieve the discomfort from what I can perceive as a possibly fatal case of constipation, at the same time.” Possibly, it was that whole figs in milk thing that people back in the Thirties seemed to be enamored with, that required the restorative effects of Pluto.

And finally, the dinner menu. So many choices. There doesn’t appear to be what we would call actual hors d’oeuvres on the menu, though I think you could do worse than a cup of what I think is gumbo, some colossal olives, and artichoke hearts. On the other hand it is the only menu of the three I’ve looked at, where figs are not offered.

Oddities and delightful ideas abound, otherwise. Caviar! On a train! I can’t find any reference to a Neptune Cocktail, but if I had to guess, and I’m going to go out on a limb here, I would deduce it’s probably going to be seafood. Shrimp cocktail, only with a more impressive title? Actually, Neptune Cocktail does sound better than Shrimp Cocktail, which always left me with the feeling that I was getting gypped, because….. shrimp. Rather than the colossal olives, maybe they should call the Shrimp Cocktail, something like A Colossal Shrimp Cocktail.

Why julienned ham on spaghetti? And with Sauce Galli, for which I can find only the most tenuous of references. There are citations to both an opera singer from the last part of the nineteenth century as well as a renowned can-can dancer. I’m hoping it’s a reference to the latter, which would be so much more interesting. But I think it’s unlikely that entertainers from thirty or forty years in the past (at the time the menu was published), would continue to inspire a recipe. Since, there is no verifiable history here though, at least none that a five minute search could find, I’m going to go with a story that the Sauce Galli is based on a favorite recipe of the famous can-can dancer who captivated society in Paris during the 1890’s.

Steak, we have in small, medium and large sizes. Sadly, no colossal size cuts. Lamb chops, chicken pot pie, and both swordfish and salmon. And calf’s liver again. They were obviously just entranced with calf’s liver back in the day. Bacon with eggs, bacon with mushroom, calf’s liver with bacon, and if you haven’t had enough bacon, just bacon, full or half portions. I like this menu.

I find it interesting that you can get potatoes three ways, and none of those are French-fried. If you tried to serve potatoes today, and you didn’t have an option for French fries I’m firmly convinced that a sizeable proportion of the American public would starve to death. Or just whine till I want to have them put to death.

You can get cold corned beef brisket for dinner, but not at lunch. I also wondered about the Chef’s Special Combination salad. Is it what we’d call today a chef’s salad, which is basically what you do with all the leftovers in the kitchen, just served with lettuce? Or was there something more to it. I get the impression, though it’s only an impression, that the lettuce salads, are pretty much just that, with a dressing, while a combination salad might be more akin to what we’d get today if we ordered an entrée salad, with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons and the like. Or maybe it is just a chef’s salad.

It’s interesting to see that desserts haven’t changed too much, though overall I think they tend a little bit to the healthier side than those today. No chocolate desserts, which would be very unusual these days.

And that’s the deal, back in the Nineteen Thirties. I suspect, no, I know, that the offerings on the train we’ll be taking next month will not be nearly as bounteous nor as interesting. On the other hand, I won’t have to worry about either calf’s liver or figs in milk, so I have that small consolation to clasp to my nostalgia yearning heart.

By the way, thanks to the Kansas Historical Society from who’s website I filched borrowed the images of the menus for the Super Chief. And finally , one last picture from a dining car during the 1930’s.

Super Chief Dining Car



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.