Tag Archives: pizza

Decor: glass ceilings

There’s a couple of reasons why I’ve been thinking about glass ceilings in restaurants this week. I took a look at the total number of visits to my top posts and, apart from the various Taste of a decade posts which draw a lot of traffic, Swingin’ at Maxwell’s Plum is #1. An elaborate stained glass ceiling was one of the most striking features of Maxwell’s Plum in New York City, and another was created for the San Francisco Plum (pictured) which opened in 1981.

The second reason is that last Sunday I went to the antique paper show Papermania in Hartford CT and brought home a 1970s-era menu from a pizza restaurant in St. Louis that I used to go to but had forgotten all about. It too had a glass ceiling though, as I recall, it was fairly plain. I won’t name the restaurant but will say that it was located in the vicinity of Washington University where I went to graduate school and there was a second place in Creve Coeur.

On one occasion I went there with a group of friends and we witnessed a kind of free floor show – only it took place inside the glass ceiling. We heard the sounds first, of little claw feet scratching on glass. Then we looked up. We saw silhouettes of a legion of four-footed creatures with long tails which were furiously scrimmaging above us, as though playing a game of football. We laughed, considered leaving, but ended up staying. If the management noticed anything amiss they certainly didn’t show it. No one came over to explain away the incident (not that I know how you’d do that), no one offered us free drinks, nothing!

The menu from this restaurant which I just acquired displays on its cover a pledge of quality accompanied by the signature of the restaurant’s owner. One of the sentences jumps out at me: “More ingredients go into our pizza than the normal recipe calls for.” Yikes, say no more!

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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You want cheese with that?

pattymelt60sLAIt seems as though almost all of history’s food forces have cooperated to give cheese top billing in restaurant meals today. Only one cheesy custom failed to catch on, that of finishing a meal with cheese and fruit as was done in small French and Italian restaurants in the later 19th century. Craig Claiborne argued in 1965 that even the best New York restaurants didn’t know how to handle the cheese course. They had poor selections which tended to be old, overripe, or served too cold. One restaurant admitted their chef was in the habit of popping cheese straight from the fridge into the oven to soften it. Restaurateurs that Claiborne interviewed insisted that Americans didn’t like cheese after a meal. I’d agree that most prefer their after-dinner cheese in the form of cheesecake.

pumpernikscheesecake352Cheese has been a staple food in American eating places probably since the first tavern opened. Regular meals were served only at stated hours but hungry customers could get cheese and crackers at the bar whatever the hour. For “Gentlemen en’passant,” the Union Coffee House in Boston promised in 1785 that it could always furnish the basics of life: oysters, English cheese, and London Porter. Across the river, Cambridge’s renowned Othello Pollard, aka “the Prince of Creams,” specialized in epicurean cheesecakes in 1805. By the 1850s, English chop houses in the East were famous for their Welsh rarebits, while pie came with a wedge of cheese just about everywhere.

When Germans immigrated to America in the 1850s and 1860s they brought their fondness for Limburger, often ridiculed in the press. The Italians introduced grated Parmesan for pasta dishes, as well as risotto, macaroni and cheese, and cheese-filled ravioli. In the late 19th century cheese became a standard item at “free lunch” counters in saloons, and many allegedly exhibited a solitary dried-up cheese sandwich as proof of their status as genuine restaurants during anti-saloon crackdowns in the early 20th century. In the 1920s toasted cheese sandwiches of all varieties became luncheonette favorites.

cheeseburger1960Cheeseburgers were a product of the fast food industry of the 1920s, claimed as inventions by both the Rite Spot of Southern California and the Little Tavern of Louisville. Strange there aren’t thousands of other contenders because what was there to invent, really? Cheeseburgers were strongly associated with Southern California before WWII — Bob’s Big Boy of LA introduced cheeseburgers in 1937. Another step forward came in the 1930s when a bill was introduced in the Wisconsin legislature requiring restaurants and cafes to serve 2/3 oz. of Wisconsin cheese with every meal costing 25 cents or more. In the same decade Kraft Cheese was among major food producers providing restaurants with standardized recipe cards.

pizzahutpizzaIt was after WWII that cheese spread its melted gooeyness everywhere — on pizza, hamburgers, Mexican dishes, and pasta, until today, well … just picture TV advertisements for TGI Friday and Olive Garden. Mass-produced cheesecake made its restaurant debut around 1950. McDonald’s introduced cheeseburgers in 1960. In the 1970s vegetarian and health food restaurants fell in love with dishes such as 7-cheese meatless lasagna, cheese-stuffed cauliflower, and cheese-smothered veggies on brown rice. From 1960 to 1978 cheese consumption doubled from 8.3 to 17.4 lbs. per capita. Now we each eat close to 34 pounds of cheese a year, mainly on pizza and hamburgers.

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

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