Menu of Hotel Pennsylvania in 1919

One of the best ways to understand the complexity of history is to look at the original sources. The textbook descriptions can, of course, provide an insight into many interesting tendencies, but, in the end, they remain rather general. Consequently, any in-depth study of history must involve some form of a careful look into the writings of the period that is being researched. This factor is especially valuable for studying food history as it involves many down-to-earth stories that are difficult to generalize in secondary sources. In this regard, the 1919 menu of Hotel Pennsylvania cafe shows that the resources available to the chefs of the past were relatively minuscule; nonetheless, they were talented enough to create potent menus despite the limitations.

The menu of Hotel Pennsylvania attempts to seem sophisticated, but, in reality, it is relatively simple, showing how underdeveloped the commodity sector was a mere century ago. Its most complex wares are present in the Service per Person part of the menu. In this regard, the most exotic elements include blue points and ripe olives, which, most likely, were imported from Europe, considering the rather subdued nature of the American climate. The rest of the menu, however, is local: clams and sea tags could be imported from the nearby City of New York or the Great Lakes, which border the Pennsylvania state. Celery and radishes were also likely to be grown locally, showing that access to various types of food was far from being as wide as it became today. Similar inferences can be made in regards to the Soup section of the menu: to a great extent, it consists of the overly simple dishes that would not be used in their current form in various menus. For instance, chicken consomme with rice would be enhanced by something more complicated (for instance, spices imported from Africa or Asia) in modern menus. The drinks section is also rather simple: it only includes basic beverages and features no juices, for example. In essence, the menu shows that the complexity of food creation back in the day was also much lower. The chefs were indeed masterful, but the information on cooking methods and products available to them was less available than today. Consequently, a menu that would better fit a household in the current conditions was considered worthy of a cafe in the past.

There are some similarities to modern menus, however, which show that certain elements of the restaurant business are likely to remain unchanged for ages. In this regard, the most crucial element undoubtedly has to do with the meat section. In the end, the complexity of its preparation saw no changes over the century: beef and roasted meat continue to be popular in modern cafes and restaurants. Their prices relative to the rest of the foods also continues to be rather similar: meat and fish dishes still represent the most expensive items in various menus. Ultimately, the price structure of the restaurants continues to be rather similar in the current conditions. Indeed, the prices in cents are rather strange from the modern standpoint but, considering the inflation, they are unlikely to be very different from the ones used today. Thus, some things never change in the restaurant industry, proving the presence of continuity in the whole business.

Another interesting element that has to do with the similarity of the restaurant industry in the past to the present one involves the dessert section and the vegetables. Firstly, the dessert section appears to be rather diverse despite the fact that it belongs to an era when ice cream and sweets producers were not as widespread as today. With the Ice Cream section, six options are available. In the modern menus, such a number of alternatives is quite common, showing that the restaurant industry enjoyed major access to the goods of this type. Secondly, the whole menu is notable for the presence of the French Fried within it. Many restaurants today continue to include this element into their menus, and, more importantly, it is now considered to be the main dish of various fast food facilities such as McDonald’s. Thus, the menu also shows that the scope of certain restaurant dishes changed significantly over the years. What was mostly available only in restaurants mere 100 years ago is now present in the most low-cost facilities. Despite the fast food orientation, French Fried are still present in a large number of respectable cafes and restaurants. More importantly, they tend to be much more sophisticated than in the past to reflect the prestigious nature of the facilities. The presence of the boiled potatoes is similarly surprising: today, such menu items would be most characteristic of the school and college canteens. Once again, while such items are present in modern menus, they tend to be more complex. Thus, the cafes and restaurants of old differed not only in the complexity of their menus but also in their overall nature.

To summarize, the analysis of the Hotel Pennsylvania menu proves that the choice of resources available to the restaurant chefs of the past was relatively poor. Nonetheless, the complexity of the menus was rather high as both the dessert and meat section appear to be rather diverse. In the end, the experience of the menu analysis helps to appreciate how much the food industry has both progressed and remained stable in recent years. Indeed, some products such as French Fried ceased to be restaurant-only foods and the number of available resources icreased. However, restaurants 100 years ago were the centers of originality and this trend continued into the future.

Work Cited
“Dinner - Hotel Pennsylvania.”, 1919,