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

3 Responses

  1. Brian says:

    Great find. Its always interesting to see how many menu items are long gone. And I wonder what makes NYC Special Coffee so special…

  2. That’s probably a generic dining service menu, not specific to the Century (which offered, among other exotic items, watermelon rind pickles). There’s one other clue, the alcoholic beverages listed in the center column as for sale in the States only. Not an issue on the Century, which stayed in the USA, but the Montreal, Toronto, and Detroit via St. Thomas, Ontario, services passed into Canada, where the Central probably wasn’t fully licensed under provincial authority. Interesting, though, to see a half grapefruit as a dessert.

    In those days, all the railroads bragged on their custom coffee blends. The Erie used to offer it by mail order to loyal passengers. Alas, NJ Transit probably doesn’t brew it on the Port Jervis trains.

  3. Old Geezer says:

    The good: a martini for $0.40! A glass of beer for $0.30!

    The bad and the ugly: a wine list with mostly sweet, dessert wines suitable for Grandma’s tastes. Were we really that unsophisticated back then?

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