Friday, June 9, 2023

Popular Long-Gone Restaurant Foods Of The 19th Century: The Meat Issue

If there’s one thing that fascinates me about food, it’s about the way food menus evolve through the years. For example, when I wrote about the Howard Johnson restaurant chain, I was thrilled to find out that the “Orange Roof” was the place where clam strips were born. I was surprised to see how many restaurant foods ended up being the brainwork of chefs—and how many fell by the wayside. 

This is one of several articles dedicated to the awesomeness that we won’t get to taste. More specifically, this is about the meat dishes we no longer hear about that once were incredibly popular menu items two centuries ago. 

The St. Nicholas Hotel
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Beef a la Mode – The St. Nicholas Hotel, 1866

I’ll admit, this made a food history veteran like me raise an eyebrow. I’ve heard of apple pie a la mode, but beef?! Well, I had to search it up. This doesn’t involve buying slab of meat and topping it with whipped cream (thank God!) but rather is a form of pot roast that’s cooked in fine wine. 

The St. Nicholas Hotel
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The best way to explain this dish is that it’s a more Anglicized version of beef bourguignon. Traditionally, it would be done using a technique called larding, which would add fat into the meet as a way to make it even juicier. It honestly sounds delicious. 

Mock Turtle – Tremont Restorator, 1834

Boston’s Tremont had a much more interesting take on meat dishes than what we’d see in a popular restaurant today. Along with pigs’ feet, the Restorator had a dish featuring mock turtle—a “meat” that wasn’t actually made of real turtle. 

Mock Turtle
Stunningly scrumptious.

In the past, turtle meat was considered to be somewhat of a delicacy due to its tender and juicy, sour-ready meat. Mock turtle was eaten by people who couldn’t afford actual turtle meat. Before you think this is a vegetarian-friendly soup, think again. Mock turtle was usually made of calf’s head and other equally strange cuts.

Potted Pigeons – The Parker House, 1865

If you asked a typical Bostoner to eat a pigeon today, they’d probably slap you. Things were different back then, though. Passenger pigeons were considered to be an easy-to-hunt bird breed that had decent-tasting meat. 

People would eat pigeons in a number of different ways, including roasting them and “potting” them as a stew. Considering how expensive food was and how affordable their meat was, it’s unsurprising passenger pigeons were being hunted to extinction in the 19th century. 

Parker House Boston

Calf’s Head, Brain Sauce – The Parker House, 1865

On the very same menu as potted pigeons was one dish you’ll never find in a typical American restaurant…or dinner table. When I came across the entry of “calf’s head with brain sauce,” I didn’t even know what to say. 

During the olden days, people were a lot more adventurous with their meat cuts than we are today. Personally, I would have passed on this offering. It’s a bit too zombie-friendly for me.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart is a food critic, writer, and at home culinary enthusiast!


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