September 11, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Paper trail to Maine restaurant history

Perusing the Maine Historical Society's colorful collection of old menus makes for a tasty and edifying stroll down Memory Lane.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

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Menus in the collection of the Maine Historical Society in Portland trace the history of dining out in Maine going back to the 19th century.

Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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A menu from The Gerald (circa 1900) in Brunswick features a photo of owner W.J. Bradbury.

Additional Photos Below

WEIGH IN

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE Portland restaurant memory? What restaurant, or restaurant dish, do you miss the most? Write to me at mgoad@pressherald.com, and I may share your story on our food blog, Maine a la Carte.

Yeah, right. Apparently the Worsters never heard that restaurants make much of their profit from beer, wine and liquor sales. They eventually had to close down.

The hotel re-opened, but then closed for good in 1959 so it could be turned into apartments. Today, it is the home of the Public Utilities Commission.

The menu on file at the historical society is dated Sept. 7, 1949 and is stamped "Where Maine Goes to Dinner." The menu is not all that different from what a restaurant might serve today, except, of course, for the prices. A "broiled fresh swordfish steak" served with drawn butter, for example, was just $1.65, and a plate of fried scallops was $1.50. Sides included "cream whipped potatoes," whole kernel corn and "cream green peas."

On the bottom of the menu, management warned: "Minimum guest check $2."

Finally, this menu was the only one with a poem. It read, in part:

"Guest, you are welcome here, be at your ease

Go to bed when you're ready, get up when you please.

Happy to share with you, such as we've got.

The leak in the roof, the soup in the pot." 

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

If you've lived in Portland for 20 or 30 years, there are lots of old names in the collection to make you salivate and reminisce.

Remember The Roma Cafe, known for ages as "Portland's most romantic restaurant" and the place you had to take your date on Valentine's, or else suffer the consequences?

There are also menus for Hu Shang on Exchange Street and the Victory Deli in Monument Square (where Foley's Bakery is now), both former frequent lunch spots for Press Herald reporters. At the end of the day, when we wanted a cocktail, we went down to Cotton Street Cantina. (On the menu, it's called Cotton Street Tropical Grill and Bar.)

Our bosses went to F. Parker Reidy's, the steak house where Sonny's is now located, for the $2.95 French onion soup, $4.50 broiled chopped sirloin with mushroom sauce, and teriyaki sirloin tips with rice pilaf for $6.50. (The 1980s called) Reidy's is also where I had my job interview with two top editors, and I still remember that I ordered fish. Hmm, fish in a steak house, and I still got the job.

Fans still maintain a "bring it back" Facebook page for the Village Cafe on India and Fore, where you could get a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs for $3.75.

A couple of the menus made me gasp a little. The first one was from a place I still think about occasionally, Raffles Cafe & Bookstore, which was located at 555 Congress St.

Sound familiar? That's because that space is now home to Five Fifty-Five.

Now, I admire what Steve and Michelle Corry have done with their restaurants in this city, but who didn't love going to Raffles for a 75-cent croissant and $1.25 cappuccino on a lazy Saturday afternoon, followed by some book browsing?

Another surprise in the collection was a stunning, colorful Back Bay Grill menu from Autumn 1997. The Back Bay Grill is, of course, still around, but I mention this menu because it hints of things to come in the Portland food scene, including the craft breweries and the love affair with farm-to-table cuisine. The menu's selection of "regional microbrews" featured only Allagash White, Shipyard's Old Thumper and Seadog Brewing Co.'s Hazelnut Porter.

I don't think I ever tried Raphael's, the northern Italian restaurant that once occupied the space where Market Street Eats is now, but it sure is fun looking at the pink menu. Staring back at you is the restaurant's namesake, Raphael "Little Willie" Cianchette, the grandfather of Portland businessman Eric Cianchette.

The restaurant had valet parking, piano entertainment in Little Willie's Lounge and a raw bar. The dish I would most like to try, if I had a time machine: Spinach and egg fettuccine tossed with scallops and shrimp in a Parmigiano cream sauce.

Dinner for two with wine at Raphael's, according to a 1987 Maine Sunday Telegram review, cost $80.

Who can forget the huge selection of sandwiches at Carbur's ("Famous since 1977"), all with ridiculous names? There was the turkey and Swiss called the "Jerry Fjord," the "Maine Maul," the "Stay Tuna'd" and a hot pastrami called the "Falmouth Foulmouth."

The Maine Historical Society is considering mounting an exhibit of the menus sometime in the near future, perhaps during Maine Restaurant Week, so you may soon have the chance to check them out yourself.

Stay Tuna'd.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad

 

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Additional Photos

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The menu from Elder’s Lunch at 71 Oak St. in Portland shows how the price of breakfast has changed over the years (bacon omelette, 35 cents, for example.)

Tim Greenway

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A special menu from The Preble House in Portland for an 1888 celebration organized by friends of Alger V. Currier in honor of the artist from Hallowell.

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The collection also includes menus from more recent history, like this one from the departed Victory Deli & Bake Shop on Monument Square.



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