Thursday, January 15, 2004
Old Menus Tell the History of Hamburgers in L.A.
By ROGER M. GRACE
A perusal of menus of Los Angeles restaurants in the late 1800s and early 1900s shows that hamburgers were not yet a common item. But some restaurants did serve them, and a few placed them on buns, as concessaires did at fairs and carnivals.
By the 1920s, cheeseburgers had come into existence. So had chili sizes (hamburger patties covered with chili)—reportedly invented here at a place called “Ptomaine Tommy’s.” Also in the 1920s, a double-deck hamburger was being sold, belying the claim that Robert Wian, founder of Bob’s Big Boy, originated that dish around 1940.
From 1871-1884, “Hamburg Beefsteak” was on the “Breakfast and Supper Menu” of the Clipper Restaurant at 311/313 Pacific Street in San Fernando. It cost 10 cents—the same price as mutton chops, pig’s feet in batter, and stewed veal. It was not, however, on the dinner menu; “Pig’s Head” “Calf Tongue” and “Stewed Kidneys” were.
In the first decade of the 20th Century, “Hamburg Steak” was on the bill of fare at Levy’s in Los Angeles, priced at 40 cents. It was listed under “Steaks and Chops,” along with “English Mutton Chops,” 65 cents, and “Broiled or Fried Tripe,” 35 cents.
O’Dell’s at 4922 S. Figueroa was the Hamburger Hamlet of its day. A freshly ground “Hamburger Steak,” billed as coming “Sizzling From Our Broiler,” was priced at 30 cents on the eatery’s 1928 menu. It came with a salad, french fried or hash browned potatoes, and a roll and butter.
Listed under “Specialties” were these items:
SIZE, Grilled Hamburger smothered with chili and beans........25c
Royal SIZE, Grilled Hamburger smothered with spaghetti,
chili beans and cheese............................................................40c
CHEESEBURGER, smothered with chili................................25c
EGG ROYAL, Hamburger whipped with one egg...................30c
The “Egg Royal” cost an extra nickel if it were smothered in chili, and another five cents if beans were added. The burgers were fried in butter and served with hash brown potatoes, a roll, and butter.
A “Hamburger Steak and Eggs” was 40 cents.
The foregoing entrees were not on buns, but O’Dell’s did serve hamburgers that were. A “Hamburger Toasted on bun” was 10 cents and a cheeseburger on a bun cost five cents more.
The availability of the cheeseburger at O’Dell’s in 1928 debunks the notion that Carl Kaelin of New Orleans invented it in 1934—notwithstanding that year after year, the mayor of that city proclaims Cheeseburger Day on Oct. 12, the supposed anniversary of Kaelin’s development of the sandwich. As noted last week, it appears that the true inventor was Lionel Sternberger, in the 1920s.
Some combinations devised by hamburger pioneers—like O’Dell’s merger of hamburgers with chili and spaghetti—failed to endure.
Perry’s Brass Rail, at 6327 Hollywood Blvd, charged 15 cents in the 1920s for a “Hamburger-Balogna” sandwich. Given that baloney is basically a cold hot dog in the form of a salami, this was an inventive, albeit ill-fated, hamburger-hot dog combination.
Since chicken fried steak goes well with country gravy, a hamburger patty surely would (especially if served with mashed potatoes). Nonetheless, hamburgers have just not come to be associated with country gravy. Yet, that’s what the downtown-L.A. Pig’n Whistle, at 744 South Hill Street, offered for 35 cents on its 1939 menu.
In the 1920s, Brae Mar Inn, at 1202 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, served what was called “Our Special Double Decker,” anticipating the “Bob’s Big Boy” by several years. It was priced at 30 cents.
That’s not to say that the inn invented it. Double- and triple-deck sandwiches of all sorts were common in those days. There might easily have been a triple-deck hamburger sandwich somewhere.
To be fair to “Bob,” however, the Brae Mar Inn in all probability used toast, rather than a bun, on its double-decker. So it could be that Wian did concoct the first double-decker using buns.
The Santa Monica restaurant also provided a single-decker for a dime and a “Hamburger (Size)” for a quarter.
“Liberty Steak” was on the 1927 menu of the New Hotel Rosslyn (now the delapitated Hotel Rossyln) at Fifth and Main Streets in downtown Los Angeles, priced at 50 cents.
During World War I, just as sauerkraut had been re-dubbed “Liberty Cabbage” to reflect anti-German sentiment, some restaurants referred to hamburger as “Liberty Steak.” Although the war had ended in 1918, the name apparently stuck, for awhile.
Next week: a look at recipes for hamburger in old cookbooks.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company
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