The American population is settled mainly along the Eastern seaboard. The largest city, New York, with almost 80,000 people, is one of only about 15 cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants. Meals are available in taverns, oyster houses, coffee houses, and French restorators. Most diners are male travelers, businessmen, or boarders, though religious societies and clubs of firefighters, politicians, or old soldiers gather for banquets from time to time. The dinner hour falls between noon and 3:00 p.m.
1800 Meat, fish, and fowl are the principal offerings of eating places, and an establishment’s quality is measured by the amount and assortment of animal protein set out on the table. At the Portland Restorator in Portland, Maine, the proprietor proudly announces he has “potted lobster, potted eel, chicks fricaseed, and fine ragouts, beef alamode, and barbicues, sausage Bologna, Hamburgh, Naples, choice venison pastry, pork pie Cheshire, good beef steak, and bacon rasher” as well as “round of beef, fat Sirloin, turkey roast, or calf’s head boil’d with tongue & brains.” Beyond these main dishes, he supplies only soup and a few pies. Strangely, he does not mention one of the most popular edibles of the 19th century, oysters.
1801 Well-off Americans who read fashionable magazines are fascinated by the popularity of restaurants in Paris. There, it is said, “everybody” (who is anybody) dines frequently outside the home. The awkward term “restorator,” an Americanized version of restaurateur which refers either to a place to dine or to its proprietor, becomes a trendy metaphor for a publication, an essay, or an editor.
1802 Napoleon offers amnesty to his opponents and many French citizens who escaped to America during the revolution return to France, shrinking the number of skilled restaurateurs. Not all leave, however. Julien continues in Boston.
1802 The inimitable black caterer Othello Pollard, of Cambridge MA, beckons “select” clients from nearby Harvard with beefsteak, soup, cheese, ham, tongue, ice cream, custard, strawberries and cream, whip-syllabub, pies, jellies, olives, and fruit, along with a well-stocked liquor cabinet. In an unusual advertisement, he observes: “It is a wise saying … that the Body is as much a subject of education as the Mind. Both require tuition and discipline. The UNIVERSITY takes the Mind for its pupil; OTHELLO takes the Body. He, therefore, who has not been at both schools is half a Scholar.”
1803 In Charleston, South Carolina, a new hotel opens with a banquet room accommodating 300.
1807 The beefsteak and oyster house remains a popular sort of eating place. Turtle soup is a delicacy and restaurants place notices in papers when they are about to prepare it. On June 8 Wm. Fryatt, who has recently opened a Porter, Beef Steak and Oyster House on the corner of Pine and Nassau in New York, advertises he will prepare the last turtle of the season.
1808 Henry Doyhar of New York City announces that he will list his dinner specials in writing each day: “To accommodate those who wish to procure their Dinner …, the bill of fare, containing the dishes regularly numbered, will be exhibited every day from nine till eleven o’clock, A.M. for the purpose of engaging beforehand such dishes as may be wanted.” Since so many people are illiterate at this time, this suggests his clients are educated and probably wealthy.
1809 In Boston the elegant and expensively built Boston Exchange Coffee-House opens with a coffee room on the ground floor, furnished with a bar and 14 private and “handsome boxes, each containing a mahogany table, seats, and a bell rope.” On the second floor is a banquet hall and a dining room whose “walls are painted a beautiful green, and the windows decorated with curtains of scarlet moreen.”
© Jan Whitaker, 2008