“Menus provide a window into history, a vital connection to our foodways,” writes Adam Reiner in this fun read about restaurant menus throughout history. Reiner explores the Buttolph Collection at the New York Public Library, which has a massive archive of over 40,000 menus dating back to 1843. These menus are sources of inspiration for today’s chefs and researchers, and the piece itself has opened my eyes up to the value of a physical, printed menu in our era of apps and QR codes. The scanned menus in the story — some from the 1930s and ’40s — are lovely to look at, and make you want to visit the library yourself to get lost in these delicate pages.
Even as QR code technology threatens to render printed menus obsolete, it occurred to me that nothing can replace the texture and poetry of a physical menu. No matter how much restaurants have changed in the century since Miss Buttolph lived, the humble menu has endured—as the diner’s first impression, a statement of the chef’s intentions, and a love letter to the appetite.