Last weekend when I was out and about, I couldn’t resist making the purchase of an old New York Central dining car menu. I don’t particularly need a dining car menu (just as a cat lady doesn’t really need 50 cats :P), but here I am with a new acquisition to my ever-growing collection. I think the thing that really captured my interest was the fact that the menu had a photo of Grand Central on the front. But I’m glad that I bought the thing – if only to marvel at the cheap (by today’s standards) prices food used to cost “back in the day.”
Railroad menu designs are certainly not as alluring as the ever-changing timetable, but menus are a nice little bit of rail history. Trains were once the primary mode of long-distance transportation in this country, and where people went food certainly needed to follow. The dining car was an integral part of these trains – a place where passengers could relax, watch the passing scenery, and have a wonderful chef-prepared meal.
The menu that I purchased is from around the 1940′s, and possibly from the 20th Century Limited (note the name of the salad – 20th Century Salad Bowl). The menu is for dinner service, and the offerings look quite tasty – including prime rib, lamb chops, and a chicken pie, among other things. Though the $1.60 for the full prime rib meal seems incredibly cheap, that meal would end up costing around $24.60 today, adjusting for inflation.
If you find the subject of dining cars interesting, there is a wonderful article that was published in Classic Trains Magazine that is a must-read. It even includes a recipe for Chicken à la Century, a meal that was served on the 20th Century Limited.