by Stephanie Jane Carter
After settling on the Cole Porter: Day as the perfect layover libation, I grasped the menu for One Flew South and asked, “May I keep it?” A few things happened in between and then the manager was suggesting to that the bartender show me his knife, which turned out to be tethered to the bar by a rope that I only imagined people would use if they weren’t kidding around.
One Flew South is a restaurant in the Atlanta Airport that is worth a long layover, and I used my dining time to expand the menu collection at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Formally known as the Menu Project, it is quickly becoming recognized as the only large-scale collection like this. The collection comprises menus from all over the American South (the Chinese delivery place down the street, the menus you collected on your honeymoon to Charleston in the 1950s, the restaurants in the Atlanta Airport, famous and not famous restaurants, restaurants that still exist and those that do not, and…). Additionally, the collection comprises those restaurants outside of the American South that purport to be Southern. For example, visiting Rochester, New York, I found a Louisiana-inspired menu that had to substitute available ingredients for those commonly used in common Louisiana dishes such as gumbo. A “gumbo” of clams and Chorizo over “Southwestern rice” is one example. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum encourages everyone (yes, you) to collect menus for the project.
The Menu Project preserves ephemeral items that reflect trends in food, beverage, culture, language, and many other topics. A World War II era menu from Galatoire’s Restaurant in New Orleans reminds us of rationing during that era – the menu reminds guests that they may only have one pat of butter for their entire meal. If you’ve been to this restaurant, you will most likely find this rule inconceivable. One pat of butter at Galatoire’s? Chills… Another particularly old Galatoire’s menu betrays secrets, but not too many, of a society that met there. The menu was obviously created especially for what it clearly states as “secret sessions.” There are enigmatic rules, such as “Particularly short men should open a window.” Language on these older menus was much more formal than newer ones.
Newer menus reveal a trend toward using nouns like parsley and rosemary as verbs (they are NOT) . For example, “parsleyed potatoes” and “rosemaried lamb.” How does one rosemary a lamb? We can also see that the trend never extended to certain herbs – thymed soup just never happened. In addition to more relaxed language, the menus demonstrate a changing aesthetic, advances in technology, shifts in populations, and so many other important topics.
Besides that, participating in the Menu Project can be fun. Usually people are excited to share their restaurant’s menu once they know about the Menu Project. Sometimes, they will display the kind of enthusiasm I encountered at One Flew South, eagerly sharing details about the restaurant, the little things that no one else knows, and the things they are particularly proud of. SO, the tethered knife… To have a restaurant in an airport in a terminal (read passed security) is a bit if a trial. The knives have to be checked and recorded. Once security clears them for use in the restaurant, they must remain tethered at all times. A HUGE fine is incurred if a knife is found not to be tethered. This means that chefs can’t bring their own knives in with them each day. When cutting, chefs cannot move beyond the radius of the tethered knife. The bartender who showed me his knife can only cut lemons and limes in that one spot. And for this bit of knowledge, I raise my Cole Porter:Day to the Menu Project.
Stephanie Jane Carter is a writer and editor at SoFAB. To learn more about the Menu Project, visit the website, http://www.southernfood.org