Cool Culinaria, a publisher with a self-described mission to rescue vintage menu art from obscurity, has just brought out a set of note cards based on vintage Los Angeles restaurant menus. When I say vintage, I don't mean the 1990s, but way back—so far that most of us have never even heard of these restaurants, let alone were taken there for a Shirley Temple as a toddler.
Think about how menus are presented today—those minimalist single sheets of paper with or without a clipboard, menus that are printed every day, not twice a year. The sheer design muscle that went into the graphics and illustrations of these vintage menus is impressive.
The cards include menus from Sugie's Original Tropics (1946), McDonnell's Drive-in (1940s), Marine Bar in Santa Catalina (1930s), the Rice Bowl (1950s) and the famous Hollywood hangout the Brown Derby (1947). The covers are juicy, but what's inside is even more interesting, a list of some of the dishes themselves—with prices, faded out slightly so that you can write over the top.
The Brown Derby, for example, served up deluxe chicken enchiladas with Chili Con Carne and Frijoles ($1.75), Cobb salad ($2.35) and a Gourmet Salad that involved mixed greens, cheese croutons, anchovy, minute egg, bacon—and French dressing. Hang on, half a cracked crab with mayonnaise went for $1.75. If that were still the case, I'd be there every night, having my usual—a cracked crab and a martini.
Sugie's Original Tropics in Beverly Hills—"It's Tropicali!"—featured cocktails named after movie stars. Most cost 64 cents (no, that's not a typo), but Ceasar (that's the way they spell it) Romero's "DEEP PURPLE"—colorful as the "Cisco Kid" himself, is just 54 cents. No info on what's in any of these drinks, not even Mickey Rooney's "SHOWBALL," which costs a whopping $1.29.
A box of 5" x 7" Los Angeles Vintage Menu Note Cards (ten to the box) costs $19.95, or about 15 Mickey Rooney cocktails. It's never too early to start thinking stocking stuffers.
You can also buy reproductions of vintage California menus from the publisher from $15—and what's this? "Keep Calm And Cronut On" posters, mugs, T-shirts and iPad covers.