Tag Archives: Duncan Hines

Duncan’s beefs

Duncan Hines celebrated simple, home-style American food. But as a printing salesman whose territory covered the entire country he ate in enough restaurants that by his 60s he had accumulated quite a few dissatisfactions with cuisine and service. “Every day on the road adds to my list of pet peeves,” he told an interviewer in 1947. In retrospect it’s clear that the decades in which he rated restaurants for the Adventures in Good Eating directories, the 1930s and 1940s, were not the country’s finest for restauranting. Some of his complaints are dated but others still ring true today.

● Chef’s specials: “Most Chef’s Specials are ground-up leftovers.”

● Chicken a la king: “I always dodge chicken a la king, if it is offered at bargain prices.”

● Cover-ups: “Foods doused with gravies or sauces.”

● Warmed-up baked potatoes.

● French fries kept warm under a heat lamp: “The grease soaks through.”

● Restaurants that steer patrons into the bar while they wait for their table.

● Being seated at a table that hasn’t been cleared of the previous patrons’ dirty dishes

● Restaurants that crowd patrons “like sardines.”

● Certain small towns: “The states between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast are pretty much the Gobi Desert as far as good cooking in the small towns goes.”

● “Maryland fried chicken” which is widely advertised but often turns out to be “old chickens covered with thick batter.”

● Long menus that contain nothing outstanding.

● Roadside stands: “Never eat at hot dog or hamburger stands.”

● Drug store counters: “How in God’s name can anyone who regularly eats drugstore snacks ever be expected to recognize a good meal when it’s served?

● Restaurants that ignore local specialties, such as those on the Gulf that feature chicken and steak rather than red snapper. Why no fiddleheads on menus in Maine? he asked.

Leave a comment

Filed under guides & reviews

Dining with Duncan

In 1935 a Kentuckian named Duncan Hines compiled a list of his 167 favorite places to eat and slipped it inside his Christmas cards. It made quite a hit. The next year his list had grown to 475 and he put it in book form, calling it Adventures in Good Eating. By 1946 the book had gone through 30 printings and had become the restaurant bible of the white American traveling public. “Our family swears by Duncan Hines,” attested a typical reader. His well-off professional and middle-class readers undoubtedly felt they needed a guide when traveling, agreeing with Hines’s comment in a 1947 interview: “I’ve run more risk eating my way across the country than in all my driving.” Distrust of the general run of restaurants reflected the times. Under the economic constraints of the depression and the labor shortages of World War II, standards of cleanliness and cooking in many restaurants slipped badly.

Adventures in Good Eating revealed sharply defined dining preferences. Hines and his legion of volunteer reviewers favored places with women cooks that specialized in home-like meals and made their own rolls, desserts, and salad dressings. WASPy country inns, tea rooms, and cafeterias predominated while relatively few restaurants serving ethnic foods made the list – subtly undermining the promise of adventure. Sprinkled throughout the book were Hines’s reflections regarding sanitation (clean catchup bottle tops, no smears on sugar bowls), essential ingredients (“good butter, fresh eggs, rich milk and a loving touch”), and favorite dishes (cornbread, fried potatoes, codfish cakes, baked beans, and eggs). He freely dispensed advice to restaurant operators, urging them to burnish their silverware, provide sharp knives and comfortable chairs, and use locally available foods.

In interviews through the years he minced no words in expressing his dislikes. Among his memorable quotes are these:
• “After many years of eating my way around the country, I have concluded that the principal reason for looking at the average menu is to see what to avoid.”
• “Baby beef, baby lamb, baby lobster, baby chicken. Who wants to eat babies?”
• “I never order baked potato without inquiring when it was baked, because a warmed-over baked potato is about as edible as a gum eraser.”
• “I would like to be food dictator of the U.S.A. just long enough to padlock two thirds of the places that call themselves cafes or restaurants.”

© Jan Whitaker, 2008


Filed under guides & reviews