Researching this week's feature story on the Dallas dining scene gave me the chance to visit the archives of the Dallas Public Library, where I spent hours immersed in dozens of old community cookbooks uncovered by Texas/Dallas History Department manager Carol Roark - who would qualify for a dedication if newspaper stories came with such things.
But the library's collection of menus is measly by big city standards. There's an impressive bound set of daily menus from the Baker Hotel, but menus from other venues number about 60. That's not insignificant, but it's hardly enough evidence from which to stitch together a coherent history of Dallas restaurant-going.
While a few important Dallas institutions are represented, including Tolbert's, the Zodiac Room and El Fenix, many more important names are missing. Among other fugitives, there aren't any menus from the Century Room at The Adolphus; the early days of Chili's or the restaurants that pioneered Southwestern cuisine in the 1980s.
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SHOW ME HOW
The library's in a cost-slashing phase, so it's unlikely to start madly accessioning old menus anytime soon. But Gus Katsigris, a local restaurant industry legend and founder of El Centro's culinary program, years ago proposed an affordable way to remedy the problem.
"I had an idea that never did get hold," he told me. "I said 'please, let's collect menus.' It never happened."
Katsigris - one of the many people I interviewed whose opinions informed my story, even though their quotes didn't appear in print - envisioned an ongoing donation program, in which restaurants would habitually deliver their latest menus to the library.
"You can tell a lot from a menu," Katsigris says. "We'd like to see a menu collection. Hey, get to the library, take your menu."