Tag Archives: health food

Soup and spirits at the bar

soupIn the 1970s the National Park Service reconstructed the historic late-18th-century City Tavern in Philadelphia for use as a restaurant. An article that describes how the tavern was to be furnished noted that originally the bar was used for more than just serving alcoholic beverages. As a 1796 advertisement below shows, it also served soup which was kept hot on a stove behind the bar.

soup1796PhiladelphiaHaving soup available at the bar of a tavern or coffee house sounds odd today, but it was quite common in the late 18th century and the early 19th century. Some of the places that announced soup in their advertisements were ordinaries or coffee houses that served dinners and suppers at stated times or by arrangement. But others were primarily drinking places, such as Baker’s Porter Cellar which opened in Boston in 1796. It’s main purpose was to serve “wines and spirits of all kinds” and it specialized in “genuine draught and bottled London porter.”

soup1807NYCommonly, soup became available from 11 am until 1 pm each day, though some establishments offered it as early as 8 am and others kept serving it as late as 5 pm. A few times a week prized turtle soup would appear. In those places that were more than drinking spots and served full meals, soup was usually ready by 10 or 11 am, several hours in advance of the main meal.

soupTheEmporiumofArts&Sciences1815

So-called restorators, which were usually run by Frenchmen, always served soup, both as a standard part of a meal and alone in the morning, possibly with a glass of wine. Like the original Paris restaurants, based on soup and taking the name “restaurant” from it, they promised that their soup would restore health for those who were feeling under the weather. Boston’s Dorival & Deguise assured patrons that “nothing will be wanting on their part, to give Satisfaction, and restore Health to the Invalids, whose Constitutions require daily some of their rich, and well seasoned Brown, and other Soupes.”

I have seen one reference to an 1820s “soup and steak establishment,” that of Frederick Rouillard who carried on after the death of Julien’s wife in Boston, as well as running a hotel in Nahant MA. His “menu” reminds me of Paris bouillon parlors that served bouillon and bouilli, the bouillon being the strained liquid in which beef and vegetables had been simmered, and the bouilli being the beef which was served with the vegetables, all of it making an inexpensive two-dish meal.

Although some 19th-century Americans disliked the “foreign” French custom of beginning a meal with soup, soup soon became a standard part of most restaurant menus, as it still is. Advertisements for morning soups became rare in the 1830s, but I don’t know whether it was because it was so well-known a practice by then that there was no need to advertise or because it was no longer done.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

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“Eating healthy”

Restaurants (and their critics) have often shown concern with patrons’ health, but the focus of concern has varied widely in different eras.

In the 18th century the idea that restaurants had a mission to restore health came to this country from France. The legend spread that a Frenchman named Boulanger invented the first restaurant, hanging out a signboard stating “I will restore you.” Whether or not this actually occurred — or whether he was “the first” — it is true that early restaurants in France promised to provide healthful dishes. The mission migrated to America as chefs arrived after the French revolution. When Julien’s opened in Boston the proprietor vowed to supply the infirm, convalescent, and weak with “nourishing” soups and broths, including turtle soups which, he advertised, would purify the blood.

But the early French “restorators” were voices shouting in the wilderness. For most of the next two centuries Americans believed their health depended on eating meat and lots of it. In the latter 19th century and into the 20th, concern shifted to unsanitary conditions in restaurants as health departments were created, ordinances established, and inspectors dispatched.

The vegetarian restaurants of the early 20th century demonstrated a renewed interest in healthy diets. Meat substitutes produced by the Kelloggs of the Battle Creek Sanitarium appeared on their tables, although breakfast cereals, whose popularity was aided by restaurant promotions, were undoubtedly the most successful of all health food products.

The food conservation guidelines of World War I lightened diets, with less meat and more vegetables on restaurant menus, as well as spreading knowledge of nutrition. A few chains, such as J. R. Thompson and Childs, provided vitamin and calorie counts in the 1920s. But the public was not too receptive. Stockholders booted out William Childs after he gained control of the mighty lunchroom corporation and removed meat from its menus, causing sales to plunge drastically.

After a prolonged beef-eating revival following the end of WWII rationing, health-conscious restaurants made a comeback as part of a counterculture critique of industrialized food. The “holy war against adulterated foods and french-fried, frozen, super sugar wastelands,” reported Mary Reinholz in the Los Angeles Times in 1971, had produced at least 25 organic restaurants in southern California, including H.E.L.P., Aware Inn, The Source, and Nucleus Nuance which served “evolution burgers,” “Virgo vege-loaves,” and carob mousse. One Los Angeles counterculture restaurant favorite, carrot cake, crossed over onto mainstream menus.

Natural food eating places, such as St. Louis’s Sunshine Inn, Long Island’s Shamballah Gardens, the Haven in Honolulu, Homeward Bound in Flagstaff, and Mary’s Natural Food Restaurant in Denton TX, to name but a few, soon spread throughout much of the country, laying the groundwork for the restaurant revival of the 1980s.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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