Menu of the Week: N.Y. Lunch, 1916
Back in 1916, just like today, come noon office workers took to the streets, looking for a place to spend their lunch break with a simple, inexpensive meal. One option was the simply named N.Y. Lunch, which had two locations, on bustling 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and on Eighth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets.
The menu, courtesy of The New York Public Library, was pretty much what you’d expect, and isn’t actually much different from what you’ll find at no-frills diners today: it was divided up into Eggs & Omelettes, Dishes to Order, Dairy Dishes ("with milk from select dairies"), Fruits in Season, Sandwiches, Salads, Cold Cuts, Oysters in Season, and Desserts.
Probably the most interesting section on the menu is the oyster one; back then oysters were much less of a luxury item than they are today, and New York Harbor was still a good source for them. They were available fried in a sandwich, fried in a basket, in a stew, or in a "box stew," which we believe was a larger portion. This was also before most restaurants indicated the variety of oyster (Blue Point vs. Malpeque, for instance), and they were still cheap and plentiful (an order of fried oysters, $0.15 then, translates to about $3.21 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation. Not bad at all). In fact, the most expensive item on the menu at this restaurant (which was probably not much more than a counter) was the sirloin steak with French fried potatoes, which cost the equivalent of about $6.50 in today’s money.
In present-day New York, there are only a handful of lunchrooms that still exist from the early decades of the 20th century, most notably Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop. In a climate where most people usually just grab something and bring it back to their desks, it would be nice if there were a few more places like N.Y. Lunch around.