Tag Archives: oysters

Deep fried

deepfriedfrymax1961As I read the morning newspaper a sentence by the head of a local restaurant dynasty caught my attention. “We all have fryolator oil running through our blood veins,” he said.

The speaker was Andrew Yee. His family enterprise includes a newly acquired retro diner, several popular bars & grills, a sushi restaurant, and a venerable Polynesian showplace, the Hu Ke Lau, begun by his father in the mid-1960s.

I was delighted to find the quotation because I was in the midst of researching deep-fried food in American restaurant history. Also because it is rare that topics such as cooking oil come up in reviews and discussions of restaurants. Yet nearly every restaurant kitchen contains a bubbling vat of it.

And always has.

deepfried1941PrimexADV

Think about how often you have been enveloped in a miasma of aged cooking oil fumes while passing a restaurant’s outdoor ventilating fan. In 1978 restaurant reviewer Phyllis Richman visited a regional restaurant expo filled with demonstrations of deep frying; she subtitled her Washington Post story “The smell.” Her experience was nothing new. In 1887 neighbors complained about the odor coming from a Cleveland OH “French fried cake baker” using cottonseed oil, which had recently come on the market as a replacement for high-priced lard.

Not that lard fumes would have smelled much better. In 1849 a journalist’s plan to survey the flourishing “eating houses” of lower Manhattan was cut short by the overpowering “smell of fried grease before we got through the first street.” Not surprising when you consider that fried oysters were a top menu attraction and had been for at least a century, probably longer.

The number of deep-fried foods eaten in the 19th century was extensive, including oysters, doughnuts, fish and fish balls, clams, potatoes, all kinds of fritters, “corn dodgers,” brains, chicken, and even parsley.

Deep fat frying in the home in the 1800s was frequent, as far as I can tell. But that changed as kitchens were transformed from rough workrooms to adjunct living areas. For some time now the restaurant industry has benefited from the fact that most home cooks dislike deep frying in their own kitchens and would rather have restaurants prepare their French fries and onion rings.

deepfried1929BostonWhen the Pitco Frialator was invented in 1918 it quickly became standard equipment in restaurant kitchens because it extended the life of cooking oil, reducing costs and improving food quality. Oils were developed that would not break down under high temperatures. Then frying kettles came out with built-in thermostats adjusted to type of food.

deepfriedprimex1938Profits from the value added to inexpensive foods by deep frying in the 1930s were a boon to  struggling restaurants. A 1938 article in The American Restaurant, a trade magazine, estimated that many deep-fried dishes – among them sole, potatoes, oysters, and croquettes – could be priced at four or five times their cost. A restaurant in Duluth MN, The Flame, boasted in an advertisement (to the trade, not the public!) that it had built an “enviable reputation” for fried food through using “tons and tons of Primex.”

deepfriedmelvoshortening1968The successful marketing of frozen foods in the 1960s expanded restaurants’ deep-fried selections. Breaded, frozen French-fried shrimp became a top seller. Once only available in Gulf Coast restaurants, by 1960 shrimp appeared on restaurant menus all over the U.S. In 1969 a Gallup Survey rated it America’s favorite deep-fried food in the fish category; in 1973 it ranked #1 among all deep-fried foods.

deepfriedchicken&potatoes1968Deep-fried chicken ranked third favorite, after shrimp and potatoes, to the disappointment of fans of pan-fried chicken, which was becoming a rarity in restaurants in the 1960s.

Drive-in restaurants relied heavily on deep frying. According to a 1961 Drive-In Magazine, “There was a time not long ago when a deep fat fryer and a neon sign were practically all you needed to put yourself in the drive-in business.” But competition was becoming fierce as fast food chains challenged drive-ins’ popularity with young diners, the customers most attracted to deep-fried food and least afraid of its dietary consequences.

Despite the profitability of deep-fried food, two perils faced restaurants: dark breading and sogginess. Both were due to incorrect frying temperatures, and frying kettles and oil that had not been maintained properly. Customers had a strong preference for fried food that was “golden brown,” but not too dark or hardened into a shell. As an article about “lethal” truck stop fare put it: “You strike a chicken leg and the crust falls away in a curved sheet to disclose a sight best forgotten.” The problem of greasy, limp French fries was cited by Gallup as customers’ second biggest complaint.

deepfriedappetizersFroggy'sCafe1980

But neither darkness, greasiness, nor calories dampened the popularity of deep-fried food. Deep-fried appetizers dominated menus of 1980s chain restaurants designed to appeal to a young adult demographic. At West Coast Froggy’s Cafés (specializing in “food and fun” – and fat) seven out of eight appetizers on a 1980 menu came out of the frialator.

It’s likely we all have oil in our veins.

© Jan Whitaker, 2016

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“Every luxury the markets afford”

alhambra1847In the 1840s and 1850s, when Russell W. Allen ran restaurants in Richmond VA, newspaper advertising for eating places employed pat phrases such as the one that serves as this post’s title. Allen advertised frequently in the papers and, judging from descriptive blurbs, he attracted affluent men looking for fine liquors and cigars, as well as top quality duck, seafood, oysters, and game.

In 1843 he opened The Alhambra which, like most eating places then also served as a hotel. His aim was to have the foremost eating place in Richmond.

The son of a Providence RI cabinet maker, Russell was 24 years old in 1835 when he married. He and Agatha moved to Richmond a few years later. In 1840 he was employed as a decorative painter whose business included hand painting custom window shades. Agatha ran a boarding house for Virginia legislators.

AlhambraHouse1844

Although it was open to the public, it would seem as though Russell’s eating saloon developed as an extension of the boarding house. His first advertisements make a direct appeal to legislators whom he offered three meals a day, promising to have on hand fine oysters from nearby rivers and bays “fresh three times a week.” He also imported live lobsters from the North, a practice which he said was highly unusual since most lobsters in Richmond were brought there pre-cooked. [bill of fare, 1844]

The Alhambra was located on the main thoroughfare, 14th street, near the bridge that crossed the James River. Outside was a sign of a deer visible in the day but eclipsed after dark by the standard candlelit red balloon that identified oyster houses. In 1846 the establishment moved two doors closer to the bridge and installed private dining rooms. A new and sensational feature was a fountain with a statue of a Greek goddess bearing a flowing cup, surrounded by swans. The spouting water held aloft a golden ball.

AlhambraCardtoLadies1846After a Richmond newspaper advised that “those who wish to see a pretty fountain should pay one visit at least,” the normally all-male sanctum was besieged by women wanting a peek inside. The result was a ladies’ night advertised in May of 1846 with Agatha Allen on hand to reassure visitors that the goings on would remain cake & lemonade respectable.

alhambraarbourSept1852

Perhaps due to the death of his father in 1848, Russell sold his business in 1849 and the family moved to New York City, where he also ran an eating place. In 1852 he returned to Richmond, bought out the Rough and Ready on the corner of 12th and Main, renamed it The Arbour, and kept it going until 1858. He tried to equal The Alhambra’s reputation as an epicurean eating place, though I can’t tell how well he succeeded. In 1852 he ran an advertisement for quick eats at reduced prices as shown above. It contains something I’ve never seen before, “domestic pie,” which I’m guessing is another way of saying homemade. Also, sora, a marsh bird.

After he gave up the restaurant and hotel business, Russell Allen returned to his earlier career as a painter and earned the rank of Captain in the Civil War.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

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Taste of a decade: 1850s restaurants

The population was moving west, with about a third living beyond the Appalachians. California had just been admitted as a state. Cities were growing. NYC was the largest, at over half a million, yet it was the only one of the nation’s eight biggest cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants. Slavery continued in the South and threatened to move West.

The smallest of the “big” cities, San Francisco, with a metropolitan area of about 35,000 in 1850, was the decade’s headline grabber. With so many living in tents and hovels, nearly everyone there ate in restaurants most of the time. Cooks came from every part of the world, as did the cuisine.

Boston, third largest with fewer than 137,000 residents, reported that among properties supplied with water there were 65 hotels, 57 saloons, 56 restaurants, 13 oyster shops, and 12 eating houses, along with 9 distilleries and 8 breweries. Beer was, in fact, beginning to supplant hard liquor as the national alcoholic beverage. Some parts of the country were overtaken by temperance sentiment and a few temperance restaurants were initiated.

The old Yankee/English term “eating house” was giving way to the more elegant French term “restaurant.” Because of so many single males in cities, many restaurants were run in conjunction with barber shops, pool halls, and bowling lanes. Those places that accommodated women usually set apart a separate room for them.

American restaurant cuisine was becoming more diverse, yet oysters reigned supreme as everybody’s favorite appetizer, late night snack, and fast food. They were ordered by simply saying, “Give me six.”

Highlights

1850 Residents of San Francisco are delighted when the refined Excelsior opens. Its white tablecloths, someone writes, give the new restaurant “quite a human appearance.” It is outfitted with gold spoons and some of its vegetables come all the way from the Sandwich Islands. – The city also has the first three Chinese restaurants in the U.S., serving “chow-chow and curry dishes” along with more conventional “English” choices.

1851 In Louisville KY, Walker’s City Exchange celebrates the opening of its new five-story restaurant building, fitted out with marble drinking saloon, dining rooms, an oyster stand, and private dining apartments. On the upper floors are tenpins alleys, billiards rooms, and staff dormitories.

1852 Newly arrived in Boston for his U.S. tour, English novelist William Thackeray is treated to a plate of gigantic oysters at Ferdinando Gori’s restaurant in the Tremont House. After downing one, he cast a “comic look of despair” at the other five, admitting he felt as if he had “swallowed a little baby.”

1852 Broadway, the grand avenue of NYC, is home to elaborate Paris-style cafés, including the popular gilt and mirrored ladies’ resort called Taylor’s and several others with names borrowed directly from France such as Tortoni and Rocher de Cancale.

1853 In Philadelphia someone has fitted up a handsome row house with a café and restaurant called Parkinson’s. It has a ladies’ saloon “sumptuously furnished in velvets and frescoes,” a garden, and a confectionery shop. – In San Francisco, M. L. Winn operates a fashionable alcohol-free ladies’ Refreshment Saloon at the corner of Washington & Montgomery (pictured) designed to “sail through the Gulf of Dissipation, Misery and Death.”

1854 Six years after the Declaration of the Rights of Woman at Seneca Falls NY, women’s rights supporter Stephen Pearl Andrews argues for abolishing home kitchens, writing “the large and elegant eating saloon, with cleanliness, order, artistic skill, and abundance, in the preparation of food, is a cheaper arrangement than the meager and ill-conditioned private table.”

1855 George T. Downing, a black caterer from New York, opens the Sea Girt House in Newport RI where he presents an ice cream saloon, private dining rooms, and, behind a lace curtain, a ladies’ café. Specialties prepared by his French and English assistants include New York oysters, confectionery, and cakes.

1856 Baltimore issues 177 licenses to eating places. Since the number of eating places not serving liquor would be minuscule, this is undoubtedly close to the total number of restaurants.

1858 At the Empire State Dining Saloon in San Francisco, a wide choice of baked goods, regionally and nationally, is available with the diner’s California Bacon and Eggs such as Mississippi Hot Corn Bread, Hot English Muffins, Hot American Waffles, Hot Hungarian Rolls, Boston Cream Toast, German Bread, and New York Batter Cakes.

1859 Only a few years old, a café owned by Charles Pfaff is discovered by a loose band of artists and writers which includes Walt Whitman who make it their club. They eat German pancakes and drink Pfaff’s beer from the barrels which line the walls. The word Bohemian has not made it into the dictionaries yet but when it does it will be applied to them.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1870 to 1880; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1920 to 1930; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; 1970 to 1980

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Taste of a decade: 1870s restaurants

Marked by a deep Depression with high rates of unemployment and business failure, the destruction of Chicago by fire, and the world’s most popular international fair to date, the 1870s are a tumultuous time for the burgeoning restaurant trade. On the one hand many restaurants fail, yet the field widens as new types and markets emerge. Despite a 14% unemployment rate, the appeal of dining out grows as many of the nearly 10 million visitors to Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition experience restaurants for the first time. Some of the fair’s restaurants set up permanent businesses when it ends.

The temperance movement introduces innovation with cheap coffee houses that demonstrate how to serve the masses on a strict budget without profits from alcoholic drinks. Under financial pressure American-plan hotels, which formerly provided limitless amounts of food with the price of a room, shut down their dining rooms, expanding the number of customers for outside restaurants. Better restaurants open special rooms and sections for unescorted women in response to growing demand. A Civil Rights Act is passed in 1875 that outlaws discrimination in public accommodations but it is disregarded and has little impact.

Experiencing reduced incomes, middle-class people wish for inexpensive eating places that are clean and have decent food. The NY Times comments, “Gentlemen who a few months ago would spend a dollar or so for a lunch and bottle of ale, now would be satisfied with a piece of roast beef and a glass of lager or cup of coffee…”

The country is primarily rural. As the decade begins only two cities have more than 500,000 population. The big wave of immigration has not yet begun, and many restaurants are run by Irish, English, and German immigrants from earlier decades. Refrigerated railway cars make it easier than ever before to ship dressed meat, oysters, seafood, fruits, and vegetables to all parts of the country, bringing luxuries to the tables of restaurants in out of the way spots.

Highlights

1870 After dealing in spices, coffee, wholesale liquors, and real estate, and running a beer hall, ball room, distillery, dry goods store, and country hotel, Hanoverian baron Christian Wolfgang von Dwingelo, a refugee of the failed German revolution of 1848, opens a restaurant on William Street in NYC.

1871 Amidst the smoldering ruins of the Great Fire, inventive Chicagoans put their culinary operations on wheels and tour about the city supplying long lines of hungry patrons with fried fish, sausages, coffee, and pie. In a sense these are the first American “diners.”

1873 Harvey & Holden in Washington D.C., which claims to be the largest oyster house in the nation, serves premium oysters from Maryland and Virginia every day from 6 a.m. until midnight. The restaurant is moderately priced, except for black patrons who allege they are charged extortionate prices.

1874 The enterprising Frederick Kurtz, operator of four “Old-Established and First-Class Restaurants” in lower Manhattan advises his customers that he has “reduced the Prices of his Bill of Fare to the most reasonable rates, To Suit the Times.”

1875 At Thompson’s in Chicago, about one third of the patrons are women. Unlike most restaurants, no liquor is served here.

1876 The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia is well supplied with restaurants, among them a re-creation of the world-famous Trois Frères Provençeaux [Three Brothers from the Provinces] which closed in Paris four years earlier. One commentator prays it will influence America’s tough-steak-and-weak-coffee cookery.

1876 Edmund Hill of Hill’s Dining Rooms in Trenton NJ visits the Exposition for the seventh time and has dinner at Lauber’s German Restaurant with a refrigerator salesman. He writes in his diary, “There must have been a thousand persons there at the time I was eating.”

1877 After an editorial appears in the Boston Globe stating a need for decent, inexpensive restaurants, a reader writes in to complain about how “Dirt and democracy seem somehow inseparable” and the only clean restaurants are unaffordable ones such as Delmonico’s.

1878 At the Oyster Bay Restaurant on Alpine Street in Georgetown, Colorado, oysters are served “in all styles and at all hours.”

1879 Journalist and author Lafcadio Hearn starts a cheap restaurant in New Orleans called The Hard Times where all dishes cost 5 cents. He writes to a friend that he is “going to succeed sooner or later, even if he has to start an eating-house in Hell,” but rapidly goes out of business all the same.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1920 to 1930; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; a href=”https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2013/09/24/taste-of-a-decade-1970s-restaurants/”>1970 to 1980

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Taste of a decade: restaurants, 1810-1820

oysters090The nation has begun to grow westward though settlement is still mostly along the coast. Seven cities exceed 10,000 in population in 1810, rising to eight over the decade. In the largest city, NY (152,056 in 1820), commerce is on the rise, yet by mid-decade there are only eight hotels and five banks. Pigs run free in the streets. The defeat of Britain in the War of 1812-1815 does not cause an immediate end to British influence on public eateries, though there are a few French restorators. Beefsteaks are popular and oysters are served almost everywhere. Alcohol flows freely. Most eating places are also drinking places and boarding houses as well. Board can include lodging or not — some people pay a weekly or monthly fee simply for meals.

Highlights

1810 With close to 34,000 inhabitants Boston, the nation’s fourth largest city, has almost 50 victuallers who run either cook shops where householders take food to be cooked or places where cooked food is served on the premises. There are also five confectioners, one restorator (Jean Gilbert Julien), three taverns, three coffee houses, and seven wine shops, some of which serve cooked food.

1811 Robert Wrightson, owner of the Union Coffee House in Boston, advertises for “a young Woman to do Kitchen Work.” He has recently opened a hotel near Cambridge where, he promises, he will stock the finest Champagne, Madeira, Sherry, Port, and London Brown Stout. Also on tap: bowling alleys and “Dinners and other Refreshments provided at the shortest notice.”

1814 In Newport RI, N. Pelichan announces he has opened a Victualling House and is ready to serve “good Beef-Steaks, Oysters, Turtle-Soups, etc. with Pastries, Wines and all kinds of Spiritous Liquors, of the very best quality.” He looks forward to hosting dinners and suppers for men’s clubs and societies which make up a good part of the dining public.

beehiveny18181815 On July 17 Hannah Julien, who has run Julien’s Restorator since the death of her husband Jean ten years earlier, informs the public that she will be serving a “fine green turtle” that day. – In Salem MA, John Remond, who is black and from the West Indies, also runs a restorator where he prepares soups, green turtles, cakes, wafers, French rolls, and other delicacies.

1817 Boasting that he has cooked for wealthy men as well as President James Madison, Henry F.Doyhar promises to furnish breakfasts, dinners and suppers at his Washington, D.C. fruit and pastry shop “on the shortest notice.” Evidently he also has a billiard table on the premises because a few months later he receives a pardon from President James Monroe for keeping it without a license. – Meanwhile, over in Georgetown William Collins lures epicures with “the richest gravies, finest jellies,” York, Cove, and Nantiquoke oysters, canvassback ducks, and “every article that will serve to embellish a supper, and give gaiety and animation to the repast.”

1818 For a day of recreation, Philadelphia families head to Greenwich Point Tavern on the Delaware River. They order a meal or simply graze on turtle soup and ice cream which are prepared every Sunday. If they become bored they take a boat ride across the river to Gloucester Point on the New Jersey side.

1819 A New York oyster cellar on Chatham Street fills up around 9 pm with patrons who drop by for fried, stewed, or raw oysters washed down with their favorite alcoholic beverages. A visitor describes the interior: “There were several tables in little boxes, covered with cloths not very clean, and having broken castors, filled with thick vinegar and dirty mustard, together with knives and forks not very tempting in their appearance.” He is also critical of the age of the patrons (too young), their appetites (too big), and the times (too extravagant).

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1920 to 1930; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; 1970 to 1980

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