If you were to travel back in time 50 years and visit a restaurant, be it a high-end French bistro or a grubby roadside truck stop, a glance at the menu would most likely send your head spinning. Menus are ever-evolving creatures, and even in the past 20 years certain dishes that were once considered restaurant staples have gone the way of the dodo.
Consider the humble Salisbury steak. The ground beef patty, topped with gravy and served alongside mashed potatoes, was once as commonplace on menus as hamburgers and fried chicken. Now, it’s been relegated to the back of the freezer aisle.
Or the elegant Duck a l’Orange. There was a time when every respectable French restaurant had their definitive version; now, a quick Menupages search reveals only a handful of restaurants serving the classic dish in all of New York City.
So what is it, in particular, that causes a dish to completely fall out of fashion? Tastes change over time, of course, but what’s not to like about, say, beef Stroganoff? The once-glamorous dish was brought back from Russia after World War II and was a menu mainstay through the 1950s and beyond, but now it’s largely relegated to traditional Russian restaurants and, once again, the freezer aisle.
For the most part, these dishes disappeared from menus because they were very heavy, and tended to rely on complicated French techniques that have gone out of style in recent years. But in some cases, dishes have vanished due to necessity. Take, for example, Abalone Meunière, which was once de rigueur on high-end menus, especially in Southern California. But abalone was essentially fished out of existence, and it is no longer commercially viable for restaurants to serve it.
From humble working-man fare to the outrageously ostentatious, click through for a glimpse at some food items that are rapidly disappearing from American menus.
This dish’s official moniker should be amandine, but when it first started appearing on menus (as an adaptation of the French sauce meunière), it was misspelled and it stuck. The dish, a simple pan-fried trout fillet in a sauce of butter, parsley, lemon, and almonds, was once a mainstay on just about every high-end restaurant’s menu. Its cousin, sole meunière, is still around, but these days when you see the word almondine it’s usually preceded with the words green beans.
Ah, the Salisbury steak. We all know it by heart: a patty of ground meat (beef, hopefully), topped with gravy and mushrooms, with mashed potatoes, green beans, and a little apple crumble in the middle compartment. But while our memories of it might originate from TV dinners, the dish itself was once an incredibly popular dish at lunch counters and inexpensive restaurants. It actually was invented in 1897 by an American doctor by the name of J.H. Salisbury, who was an early advocate of a low-carb diet for weight loss.
Veal Cordon Bleu
This dish originated in Switzerland,, and is a riff on traditional schnitzel. But instead of just frying the pounded veal cutlet, it’s stuffed with ham and an easily meltable cheese (generally Swiss or Gruyère), usually rolled up into a roulade, and then deep-fried. This was another staple of fine dining restaurants from the 1950s right into the 1990s, but in recent years the heavy dish, like the similar Chicken Kiev and its counterpart chicken cordon bleu, has fallen well out of fashion. Cordon bleu translates to "blue ribbon," but it has no affiliation with the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school.
This dish was invented by one of the greatest chefs who ever lived, Georges Auguste Escoffier, during a visit to London, and he named it in honor of the opening of a French opera there. Its name? Véronique. It’s a fairly simple preparation of Dover sole poached in white wine and topped with a sauce of heavy cream, fresh herbs, and grapes. And while grapes and fish might not make for an obvious pairing, audiences around the globe went crazy for it, and it became a French restaurant mainstay. Today the dish has all but vanished, and only appears on one menu in New York, according to Menupages, albeit with scallops instead of sole, and with mushrooms added.
This salad was incredibly popular at the turn of the 20th century, especially on the West Coast. It originated in either Seattle or San Francisco, and is a fairly straightforward salad of crabmeat, sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and asparagus, served on a bed of lettuce. It was traditionally served with a mayonnaise-based dressing, in some cases Green Goddess dressing, another former West Coast staple that’s mostly fallen out of favor. The salad had a nationwide boom during its early-1900s heyday, but is now only available at a few hotels and restaurants on the West Coast, with an uptick during peak crab season.
This dish was always considered a delicacy, another West Coast specialty that had a brief, booming heyday and has since vanished into obscurity. Meunière sauce, similar to the already-mentioned amandine sauce, is a simple mixture of butter, parsley, and lemon juice, and in this preparation, abalone (a type of edible sea snail) is pounded thin, sautéed in butter, and served topped with the sauce. The dish was incredibly popular in the mid-20th century; so popular, in fact, that some restaurants substituted large calamari for abalone and diners were none the wiser. The poor shellfish was nearly driven to extinction, and finally restaurants stopped serving it. The dish has experienced a slight resurgence in a few California restaurants thanks to some thriving abalone farms, but due to the fact that table-ready farmed abalone takes many years to reach the preferred size of about seven inches, odds are it will never experience the kind of nationwide popularity of its heyday.
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