Odd restaurant food

Over the weekend I went to an antiques show in Fitzwilliam NH and bought some vintage menus. The seller had a cache of them from a printer in Manchester NH, all from 1956.

An unusual selection on one of the menus caught my eye, a Toasted Chop Suey sandwich. Odder still, the sandwich appeared on a menu from Angelo’s Spaghetti House.

It would seem slightly less strange to me if it had been a Chinese restaurant, such as the Chinese and American Red Rose Restaurant in New London CT, where around 1960 diners could order a Chow Mein sandwich.

But, upon reflection I have to ask myself why either of these sandwiches should seem odd. I used to enjoy a specialty of St. Louis Chinese restaurants called the St. Paul sandwich which consisted of something resembling Egg Foo Young served between two slices of spongy white sandwich bread slathered with mayonnaise. It was delicious.

I don’t mean to single out New England as the home of strange restaurant dishes, but it so happens that I’ve personally encountered two of the weirdest food combinations of my dining-out life in this part of the world.

Both involved potatoes.

One was in a New England inn with a quaint name and an old coach on the front lawn. It is against my better judgment to go to such places but a visitor from afar expressed interest in it. I have no idea what I ordered but let’s assume it was chicken or beef. Along with it, in a small saucer, came two whole boiled potatoes smothered in tomato sauce straight out of the can. I have to think that the cook was suddenly taken ill and the dishwasher, the only other person in the kitchen, had to take over.

At a restaurant in Springfield MA I experienced another culinary shock. I had taken my visiting parents there on the way to the train station because they liked Italian restaurants and it was handy. I have forgotten what we ate, but at tables all around us people joyfully celebrated carbo-loading with side dishes heaped with spaghetti AND french fries — in addition to their main dishes. I like spaghetti. I like french fries. But together?

Changing the focus from New England to California, “Chili Size” might at first seem like an odd dish but upon closer inspection it is not so much the components that are peculiar – a hamburger patty covered with chili with beans, sometimes with cheese melted on top of it all – as it is the name.

On the other hand there may be people who don’t think any of these things are odd.

© Jan Whitaker, 2012

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Odd restaurant food

  1. Genevieve Reale Sartell

    Hi Jan, Angelo’s Spaghetti House was owned by my gradfather, Angelo Reale. Most of the family worked there in the summer months. My dad Frank Reale did most of the cooking, I don’t ever remember a “chop suey sandwich” on the menu! Does the menu u bought have a cover that reads.. Angelo’s the best pizza on the beach, sweet as a nut? Thanks for bringing back the best memories of my family and “the restaurant” as it was referred to by my family, I loved reading your post.

    • Hi Genevieve, The menu I have does not say that on the front, and there are no pizzas listed inside. It simply has the address: Hanover Street, at Page Street, Manchester, N.H. On the inside it has sections headed Italian Food, Short Orders, Sandwiches (etc.) “Chop Suey, Toasted” is listed under Sandwiches for 15 cents. I believe the menu is from 1956. On the back it says “Open from 9 A.M. until Midnight.”

      • gsdelta93@aol.com

        Hi Jan, didn’t realize that the Angelo’s restaurant was in N.H. That lets us out! Good Luck gen

  2. Ed Sartell

    Jan,
    Hello. My name is Ed Sartell. Grandson of the late Frank (Hottie) and Alice Reale, owners of Angelo’s Spaghetti House, Nantasket Beach, Hull Ma.

    If the menu mentioned in your article is from Angelo’s would you be interested in selling it. My mother and all her family would really enjoy it.

    Please contact me,

    Thanks,

    Ed

  3. Not so strange to me. I can recall chop suey sandwiches on toast at home, and I believe some of the social organizations served them at luncheon functions. Bear in mind that “Chinese food” in the mid-20th century and “Chinese food” at restaurants today are not the same thing. (Now you are making me nostalgic for LaChoy dinner kits from those days, a product best not spoken of.)
    As for the potatoes with tomato sauce, that sounds like a recipe from a 1900 era cookbook. Read some of the vegetable recipes from back then – after cooking vegetables “forever”, they needed help from various sauces.

    • Dale Hinote

      A Chinese-American chop suey sandwich sounds interesting, and probably I would prefer it to an Italian-American chop suey sandwich, but at an Italian restaurant in NH in the 1950s, I still strongly suggest this was macaroni, beef, and tomato sauce, probably with some Worcestershire sauce dribbled in and onions and green peppers.

      Even now in Eastern New England, if one sees “Chop Suey” on the menu of a non-Chinese restaurant, you get the macaroni and tomato stuff, no need in most cases to put “American” in front of it. Only the name is odd, not the food, which can be tasty.

      I agree that the potatoes with plain tomato sauce could be an inept attempt to reproduce 1890 Yankee restaurant cuisine. Old cookbooks were vague, as we all know.

      We try to make sure people get their daily potatoes here in Maine, but Western New England and its vast out-migrations must be the mother source of bland from Springfield to Springfield.

      • You may very well be right about the chop suey sandwich. I’m not a native New Englander and don’t know about these things. I love potatoes, but it’s for sure that the boiled potatoes with tomato sauce was an unattractive, bland, and totally awful dish. It did not appear to me that the inn was trying to reproduce old-time cuisine — it was a pathetic place down on its luck and about to close.

  4. Another odd New England potato story. Last night — in Vermont — the waiter brings the entrees and says, I’ll bring your mashed and fries in just a sec. Yep, a dish of mashed potatoes and a cone of fries — BOTH come with the entree.

  5. Dale Hinote

    This is almost certainly American Chop Suey, a New England favorite made from macaroni, ground beef, and tomato sauce.

  6. Henry Voigt

    What a great find, a menu with a toasted chop suey sandwich!

  7. Martin Sovik

    No matter how good it was Jan, we Minnesotans are going to deny any relation to an egg foo young sandwich named after our capital, unless you’ve got the provinance! Closest thing I can think of is muh shi rho, with duck sauce in a chinese pancake.

    On the other hand, sandwiches are a wonderful world, aren’t they? For a long while I was a peanut butter and banana guy. Still am, on occasion.

    Best,
    Martin

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