The turn of the 20th Century was the golden age of rail travel, with thousands of miles of tracks uniting the East, West, North, and South for the first time and making parts of the country that were previously inaccessible suddenly in reach. A trip from New York to Florida used to only be possible by boat, but now it was possible by rail, via the Southern Railway’s New York and Florida Limited and New York and Florida Express.
According to this Cambridge Chronicle article from 1900, the year of the train’s launch and of our featured menu, the train was "composed exclusively of compartment cars, finished in royal elegance; Pullman drawing room sleeping cars, constructed especially for this train, a sumptuous dining car and library and observation cars.” The Express left New York at 3:25 p.m. daily and stopped at Jacksonville and Port Tampa.
The luncheon menu in May of that year, from the New York Public Library's archive, was a fairly simple one, but it still out-did today’s Amtrak offerings by a mile. On offer were oyster soup, pearl onions, and “pin money pickles,” which were kicked up with some ginger and cinnamon, fried red snapper with tartar sauce, and “braized” beef with vegetables. Cold meats included spring lamb, roast beef, ham, ox tongue, and sardines, and lighter fare included baked beans and chicken salad. Boiled potatoes or onions, rice, and string beans were offered on the side.
Cheese and crackers were also offered, as were apple pie, assorted cakes, wafers, and “Golden Gate fruit,” which I haven’t been able to track down any details about. Beverages included coffee, milk, tea, and “table water from Wolf Trap Lithia Springs” in Virginia (mentioning that was a nice touch).
Meals cost one dollar, which is the equivalent of about $30 in today’s money.