Fine dining, on the train

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.


Various New York Central dining menus

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Fall Roadtrip Day 1: Bennington Station, Vermont

Yesterday’s stormy weather played havoc on the trains and roads… perfect weather for the start of my fall roadtrip. Most of the stops I had planned (some of the old Harlem Stations) were postponed until Sunday, and perhaps the things I planned on Sunday will be cancelled. But determined to make the most of the situation, we headed straight up to Vermont where the rain was a bit lighter. Consulting the GPS for a restaurant around lunch time I noticed a place called “Bennington Station Restaurant”. I must say, the stop redeemed the day’s terrible weather.

Bennington Station, a station along the Rutland Railway, was built in 1897 and designed by architect William C. Bull. The style of the building is Richardson Romanesque, the same style I’ve previously mentioned when visiting Chatham. The outside is constructed of blue marble quarried in West Rutland, however with the rough finish of the marble, it resembles granite.

The inside is beautifully furnished with wood, and consists of a dining room and lounge. The food was great, and I definitely suggest a visit if you’re ever in the area!

 
  
 
  
   
   
   
 
   

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Katonah

By now my little photography adventures have taken me to almost all of the Harlem Line stations (the only outstanding stations are Woodlawn, Williams Bridge, Botanical Garden, Melrose and Tremont. I’ve been warned for my safety at the last two). I’ve done a lot of fun things, and gotten to explore quite a bit. I’ve eaten an italian ice in Hartsdale with @kc2hmv, splashed in the river near Crestwood, and munched on good food in Mount Kisco, Valhalla and Tuckahoe. I’ve seen all the Arts for Transit pieces, and other randomly cute things, like the Commuter Rooster in Scarsdale. But despite all this, when I chatted with @bitchcakesny last night and she asked me my favorite station of all, I couldn’t quite answer.

There are so many good things about some of these stations, how could I pick just one? Wassaic and Pleasantville have my favorite Arts for Transit pieces, and I loved Harlem-125th’s art too, not to mention it was a great spot for photography. Bronxville has a unique station, and the shops surrounding Mount Kisco, Hartsdale and Scarsdale are cute and worth exploring. Chappaqua’s restored station building is a beautiful sight, and I’ve always been fond of Brewster’s old station building. What I was able to do though, is narrow it down by asking myself a question: If I had to be stuck at a single station for the entire day (maybe there was a big fire or something, shutting down Metro-North??), which would it be? And that answer is Katonah.

What makes Katonah special? The area around the station is very cute – full of shops and restaurants for eating good food. I will admit though, the Katonah Museum played a part in the decision. If you don’t mind walking the half mile from the station to this art museum, you really could spend the entire day here viewing art, shopping and eating. And if there was still time left you could hang out in the gazebo not far from the station, or go and visit the library which is two blocks away. Katonah is just another one of the nice places located along the Harlem Line, but one that certainly sticks out in my mind.







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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Fleetwood

Oh Fleetwood, to me you will always be synonymous with chicken teriyaki. Let me explain. I have the beginnings of a problem – a hoarding problem (Cat Girl now, Cat Lady tomorrow!). I feel just about terrible throwing anything away, even if I don’t really want it. I hate wasting. So when I didn’t finish my chicken teriyaki lunch, I got it packed up and put it in my backpack – I figured the dog would get a nice dinner. Sitting on the train, with my backpack in my lap, that chicken had other ideas. Backpack explosion ideas. As I stood up to depart at Fleetwood, I happened find teriyaki sauce all over my lap. I did manage to take some acceptable photos of Fleetwood, but I was somewhat more concerned about looking like an idiot, and smelling like a Japanese restaurant. And go figure, on the way home a person recognized me. “Hey, you’re the girl with that train site…” never came at a worse time. Now I have readers think that I never washed my clothes after returning from Japan.

In more on-topic seriousness though, Fleetwood is one of the Harlem Line’s train stations in the north side of the city of Mount Vernon. Along with the stations of Crestwood and Tuckahoe, Fleetwood has an Arts for Transit piece by California-born artist Arthur Gonzalez. All three are bronze figures, and in Fleetwood’s case, it is located in the overpass between the platforms. Titled Time Catcher, the piece was installed in 1990, and is a “a tribute to those who built the railroad.”







Thankfully, my chicken teriyaki nightmare is not the most horrible food-related Metro-North horror story I’ve heard. Besides the crazy folks that I’ve actually seen bringing buckets of fried chicken (with ziploc bags for the bones) on the train that I frequently jest about, the prize thus far goes to a Snickers bar. While eating the candy, a piece fell… somewhere. Unable to find it, and ultimately forgotten about, the candy piece happened to be on the seat – which someone then sat upon. When arriving at Grand Central, a friend took it upon themself to inform the unfortunate someone (who I will not name) that they may have had a little “accident” on the train. I guess smelling like food isn’t as bad as crapping your pants.

Perhaps this is a lesson to us all? Leave the food at home? And enjoy these old photos of Fleetwood, taken in the 80’s?

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Good Eats at the Former Valhalla Train Station

Imagine that, today I get to be a food critic! My friend Despina is fasting for Lent, and was looking for a decent place to eat (her variety of “fasting” is essentially eating vegan), and suggested Valhalla Crossing, which right next to Valhalla’s Metro-North station, and historically, was the original station building. I see the place just about every day on the way to work, yet had never gotten a chance to eat there.

Of course I brought my camera for documentary purposes, and the decor was quite nice in the place, so I took quite a few pictures. Our waitress told us that most of the woodwork in the room where we sat was not original, but the floor of the bar is the original station floor. Trains regularly pass by the place, which is kind of cool to watch. The noise from said trains was not bad at all, I’ve heard and felt worse in the city when subways pass by underneath. Though thinking about it, during the lunchtime hours mostly M7’s were going by… I imagine one of the diesels passing by is sure to jolt you from your reverie.

Throughout the place were framed prints and photographs of train-related memorabilia, as well as original photos of the Valhalla station, with the original platform. There was a caboose room in which you could eat, which we took photographs of. Of course all the people eating in the room had pause their conversations to turn and look. This is why I often feel shy about taking photos in public. I quite liked the large painting of the steam train that was not far from our table, but my friend kept saying to me that the plume of steam looked like an umbilical cord. Delightful imagery for lunchtime.

The food itself was pretty good. I am notoriuosly picky about my food, of which most people who know me can wholeheartedly attest to. I ordered the “Third rail” mostly because I was amused with the name. It contained chicken with buffalo sauce, bleu cheese, lettuce and tomato on a wedge. If I had to find a fault in it at all, I would have to say, “you call that buffalo sauce?” Weak and hardly spicy. The bleu cheese should complement the buffalo sauce, not overpower it. Alright, perhaps I am just bitter because my friend’s wrap looked better. If you go to Valhalla Crossing, try a wrap, they look good. And the onion rings look better than the fries. But they’re so awesome that they’ll allow you to get a little bit of both if you want. Either way, the Valhalla Crossing is pretty cute, and I’d certainly go back. They get major points from me because there were no big, black hairs in my food, which happened to me down the road at the North Castle Diner. There’s a place I’d never revisit.

Anyways, be sure to take a look at their website, ValhallaCrossing.com. My web designer nature must make me of course say that with the interesting decor of the place, they really could have carried that over and made an awesome website, but unfortunately they chose an out of the box template look, which saddens me slightly. (I can redesign that for you guys. Call me!) But really, go take a visit. Valhalla’s got some nice little places to eat, all in walking distance of the train station. Another favorite of mine being Mughal Palace, an Indian restaurant across the street from the station. Yummy.

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