I suspect that a lot of people living in the Wild West in the 1880s and 1890s had little choice but to eat their holiday dinners in restaurants. The majority of the residents of western mining and ranching towns were males living in “hotels” which were nothing but crude rooming houses with a saloon, pool hall, and none-too-fine restaurant attached.
John W. Conway ran such a place in Santa Fe NM, but judging from the spread he laid out for Christmas in 1891, he was making a generous effort to please his guests with a delicious meal. On this particular day he served a genuine feast for only 25 cents, the price of an everyday dinner.
Just down San Francisco street, Will Burton offered a more refined, pared-down dinner. Judging from the menu, the 50-cent meal might well have equaled one served in more sophisticated big city restaurants. Unlike John Conway’s, his dinner began with oysters and featured fish and game courses. And there was no Pork and Beans or Cornstarch Pudding on Will’s menu.
Will, aka Billy, had lived for a time in San Francisco where he may have acquired elite tastes. He hosted game dinners, kept vintage French wines in his cellar, and poured expensive Scotch whisky. He opened this restaurant in Santa Fe on Thanksgiving of 1891 but, alas, by the next spring he was ruined and reduced to running the short order department at Conway’s Bon Ton.
Regarding the first menu, I am left wondering what Nellie Bly pudding might be. Under Relishes on the same menu, German pickles were, I think, pickled green tomatoes with onions and green peppers. Chow Chow was a mixture of pickled vegetables. On Billy’s menu, Velouté Sauce, of meat stock, and creamed flour and butter, is incorrectly spelled. “A. D. Coffee” is short for after dinner coffee. Both menus use the French meaning of entree, a side dish usually of smaller cuts or chopped meat or fowl.
I find it interesting that Christmas dinner menus in most of the restaurants I looked at from the second half of the 20th century were far less elaborate than these.
© Jan Whitaker, 2012