American food and the 19th century traveller

Baedeker on American food and restaurants; yet again, less has changed than one might expect. The paragraph breaks are mostly mine, as all but the first paragraph were run together, the Baedeker being, oddly enough, not designed for easy web reading. 🙂

Restaurants. In New York and other large cities the traveller will find many excellent restaurants, but in other places he will do well to take his meals at his hotel or boarding-house. Restaurants are attached to all hotels on the European plan. A single traveller will generally find à la carte restaurants rather expensive, but one portion will usually be found enough for two guests and two portions ample for three. The table de hôte restaurants, on the other hand, often give excellent value for their charges.

Soup, fish, poultry, game, and sweet dishes are generally good; but the beef and mutton are often inferior to those of England. Oysters, served in a great variety of styles, are large, plentiful, and comparatively cheap. In America wine or beer is much less frequently drunk at meals than in Europe, and the vistor is not expected to order liquor ‘for the good of the house’. Iced water is a universal beverage, and a cup if tea or coffee is included in all meals at a fixed price.

Wine is generally poor or dear, and often both. It is much to be regretted that, outside of California, the native vintages, which are often superior to the cheap imported wines, seldom appear on the wine-list; and travellers will do good service by making a point of demanding Californian wines and expressing surprise when they cannot be furnished. Liquors of all kinds are sold at Saloons (public houses) and Hotel Bars.

Restaurants which solicit the patronage of ‘gents’ should be avoided. The meals on dining-cars and ‘buffet cars’ are generally preferable to those at railway restaurants. Tipping the waiter is not as a rule necessary or even (outside of the large Eastern cities) expected, but it may be found serviceable where several meals are taken at the same place. The custom, however, is by no means so firmly rooted as in Europe and should not be encouraged.

Cafés, in the European sense, are seldom found in the United States except in New Orleans and a few other cities with a large French or German element in the population. The name, however, is constantly used as the equivalent of restaurant.

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