Thanks to the New York Public Library’s monolithic menu-cataloging project, restaurant menus have been getting their due as invaluable historical reference tools. But leave it to Taschen — the German publisher known for its big, beautiful coffee-table books — to recognize them as works of art: In August, it will immortalize menus spanning the country and a century in Menu Design in America, 1850-1985.
The book features 800 examples of menu covers and interiors, accompanied by captions written by Esquire restaurant critic and Grant Achatz BFF John Mariani. The following sample reflects the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggests that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors. Listing all of your local farmers/purveyors in a stark, bold-faced serif font is fine, but doesn’t hold a candle to a nymph shooting an arrow at a pink unicorn.