“Here, put this in your bag”

17,545 scanned, searchable menus from 1850-present at the New York Public Library, including lots of airline, train, ship, and hotel menus.

Here’s the à la carte and suppers back page of the Parker House Boston menu for Thursday, 28 September 1865. Those were the days, eh? Tenderloin with truffles, a buck-thirty. Gimme one of those widgeons, too, wouldya? By the way, what is a widgeon?

At the end of this post is a menu I borrowed around 1980 from the original Mimi’s Cafe, in Anaheim, California – the first of just two or maybe three branches at the time. Consistently the best breakfast restaurant I’ve ever visited, with sticky honey bran muffins to die for – still true in this century. I would most often order the Oeufs et Pain Perdu that featured a sourdough French toast stuffed with cream cheese and orange marmalade, which I believe dreams are made of.

There are 145 Mimi’s these days, but their expansion has been limited to the southern half of the US, so I have to make do with my own not-quite-so-great version of those muffins. I can tell you that all the people on the web who claim “I finally made honey bran muffins just like Mimi’s!” are optimists at heart, sure, but I’ve tried their recipes – most of which feature a too-small proportion of bran and a pre-bake brown sugar-honey glaze deposited in the tin before the batter that incorrectly hardens on the bottom of the muffin – and have decided that they either have exceedingly poor memory or can’t help fibbing because they so want it to be true. None of them are even close to Mimi’s, which is rich in earthy bran taste and whose bottom glaze may simply be diluted honey drizzled on after baking when the muffins are inverted hot from the tin. I’ll publish my recipe when I further refine it to the point where it really is close. It’s not there yet.

Founder Arthur Simms, an Army Air Force bombardier and navigator in WWII who later directed the MGM Studios commissary in the late 1940s and 1950s and opened other restaurants before Mimi’s, is said to have named the restaurant after a French woman he met at a party celebrating the liberation of Paris in August 1944. That was probably in England since there were no Army Air Force bomber crews in France in 1944. This conflicts slightly with the PR-embellished version, which one restaurant reviewer passed along like this: “A WWII veteran ace flyer, Simms dedicated Mimi’s to a fetching French woman whose town he liberated from Nazi occupation.” Ahem.

This menu has been tacked up in my kitchen in its folded form ever since those first visits during a week-long trip to work with a customer in Cerritos, a prominent electrical contractor that had done the electrical work for, among other large projects, Anaheim Stadium and the iconic Bonaventure Hotel in L.A. – that one with five circular glass towers seen in the opening montage of a lot of TV shows. I went to Mimi’s every morning after my first breakfast there and returned each time I visited Kirkwood Electric in the following years. I recall one visit when the women on the Kirkwood staff took me out to a nice dinner, but precious few details past the – ten, was it? – kamikazes they bought me over several hours. The other place I frequented was Polly’s Pies near the Kirkwood office because they had a rather glorious tuna melt on thick-sliced whole wheat bread that they baked on the premises. They haven’t expanded much and are still in Southern California only.

Click either image for 1920-wide.

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