Here’s what was on the menu at the King Edward Hotel in 1905
Steak au poivre with mushrooms, asparagus and potatoes at the King Edward Hotel’s Consort Bar will run you $36 before tip and HST, but 108 years ago a visitor could have had pretty much the same meal for about $1.50. For an extra 35 cents the hotel would have thrown in an order of devilled kidneys. A little pâté de foie gras on the side? 60 cents.
We know all this because the New York Public Library has a collection of restaurant menus, many of which have been digitized and put online. A lot of the items are from New York, but there are a few from Toronto, most belonging to establishments that have long since been forgotten. The best of them by far is this 1905 menu from the King Edward Hotel, which still exists—albeit under different ownership—on King Street East. (Honourable mention goes to this undated Shopsy’s menu, which looks like it was printed in the early ’80s.)
Most of what was being served at the King Edward a century ago wouldn’t be out of place on the menu of a steakhouse or diner today, but the bill of fare is definitely very bland by contemporary standards. The spiciest thing on offer is tartar sauce, and a lot of the mains seem to be variations on broiled or fried meat. The most exotic item is “imported frankfurters with potato salad.” Meanwhile, “calf’s head, tortue” sounds like something a charcuterie revivalist like Grant van Gameren could get behind. The length of the menu is more impressive. These days only feeding troughs like The Pickle Barrel keep so much stuff on hand.