Every week, we tap into the deep recesses of the New York Public Library’s vast archive of old menus to take a look at the history of dining out. Click here for more Menus of the Week.
The 400-room Broadway Central Hotel was built in 1870, and at the time it was the largest hotel in the world. Located on the west side of Broadway between Bleecker and Third Street, which was then called Amity Street, it was in the heart of the city’s entertainment district and boasted the finest luxuries of the day, including three grand dining rooms and top-of-the-line furnishings. With its mansard roof and ornate lobby, it certainly looked the part as well.
While it wasn’t the largest hotel in the world any more by the time Thanksgiving 1899 rolled around, it was still a swanky neighborhood and the hotel still catered to the elite. The menu for the evening, which we found in the New York Public Library's online archive, was separated into Soups, Fish, Boiled, Entrées, Roast, Game, Salads, Cold Meats, Vegetables, and Desserts sections, and it’s clear that this must have been quite a feast.
It looks like the evening started with oysters, followed by soups including the lovely sounding consommé quenelles, with broiled kingfish (which can be any of 12 fishes today) or Kennebec salmon after that (the "potatoes surprise" served alongside it sounds intriguing). Then came boiled Philadelphia capon and smoked tongue with spinach, followed by stewed terrapin "in cases," sweetbreads, and something called "Queen Fritters," which are similar to French beignets. Then we finally get around to the main event: prime rib, Boston gosling, and Vermont turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce. For those still hungry, there was also broiled quail on toast.
Served alongside the meal was a wide variety of salads, cold meats, and vegetable dishes including "samp," which is of Native American origin and is essentially mashed corn. Finally, the meal ended with an ungodly amount of desserts and cheeses, including plum pudding, pumpkin pie, Newport whips, French kisses, Santa Cruz jelly, and Bisque Tortoni.
As for the Broadway Central, it declined along with the neighborhood in the 20th century, and by the time the 1970s rolled around it had turned into a flophouse and after-hours club. In 1973 one of the building’s walls collapsed, killing four, and the structure was torn down shortly thereafter. Today the neighborhood, on the border of Greenwich Village and NoHo, is one of the city’s trendiest, and surely if the building were still standing it would be one of the area’s crown jewels.