“We’ll Teach Him to Know Turtles From Jays” And Other Wisdom From The New York Public Library’s New Menu Project

One of the most entertaining things about checking in with Tequila’s in its 25th year—the subject of June’s Revisit column—was the chance to spend some quality time reading the restaurant’s menu.  There just aren’t many places that devote up to 150 inked words to the description of a single entrée anymore.  In an age of menu minimalism, it was a riot to page (and page, and page…) through that throwback to a different era.

And now, the New York Public Library has gotten in on the fun.  The beta version of their What’s on the Menu website is digitizing a trove of even older menus from the library’s archive–including this one, from the old Five O’Clock Club in Philadelphia, which from the looks of it was a restaurant operating out of the Union League in the late 19th century.  Dated February 9, 1889, the scanned menu includes Mock Turtle (served with sherry) and Roman Punch (served with cigarettes).

It is also inscribed with some splendid Shakespearean epigraphs.  My favorites, in addition to the one chosen for this post’s title: “Come, shall we go and kill us some venison?” (As You Like It) and “Oh, dainty duck!” (Midsummer Night’s Dream).

The site’s search function could use improvement, but check it out.  You’ll find dishes from New York hotels (“Philadelphia white squab”), Kansas City banquets (“Clear green sea turtle, Aux quinelles”), old steamship restaurants (“Salmi of goose with olives”), and all sorts of other places.

If you find any other old Philly haunts, post the links in the Comments section.