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Cool Culinaria Unearths Awesome Old Chicago Menus

By Amy Cavanaugh in Food on Oct 14, 2012 4:00PM

We love reading old menus to see what people ate way back when, and old menus are even more awesome when they're from Chicago restaurants. Cool Culinaria has unearthed old menus from across the country, including three from Chicago restaurants—JH Ireland, the Bismark Hotel, and The Blackhawk, and you can buy prints. They clean and restore old menus then reproduce the covers as prints. They also include a printed copy of the interior menu with your order.

The Blackhawk menu is from 1933. The restaurant opened on December 27, 1920 and had many musicians come to play there, including Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. The menu features a $1.50 Easter dinner that includes dishes like roast goose with stewed prunes, butterscotch whipped cream pie, and something enticingly called Panama Salad.

Breakfast at the Walnut Room in the Bismarck Hotel in 1945 included creamed finnan haddie (smoked haddock with cream), milk toast, cereals, eggs, and something called a coffee pretzel, which sounds delightful. The Walnut Room opened in 1894 by German immigrants and the hotel is now the Hotel Allegro.

JH Ireland Grill Room opened in 1906 and focused on seafood. One room was modeled after the saloon of a passenger ship. The 1940s menu includes an outrageous list of oyster preparations: Fried New York Counts, New Orleans, Philadelphia pan roast, escalloped oysters, oyster omelette, Rockefeller oysters, casino oysters, au gratin oysters, California pepper roast, and oysters brochette. We looked up California pepper roast oysters and found a turn of the century recipe that calls for dredging oysters in Mexican ground sweet pepper, salt, and butter and baking them. They they're placed in a sauce of oyster liquor, chopped chilies, and tomatoes.

The menu also includes three preparations for frog legs; deviled crab, which the menu calls a "snappy favorite;" and something called Mariner's Delight, with lobster, shrimp, and crab in Welsh rarebit sauce, of which the menu simply says, "wow!" We would pay more than the $2.50 it cost at the time to try it.