For The Dairy Restaurant, Ben Katchor retells the history of where we choose to eat — a history that starts with the first man allowed to enter a walled garden and encouraged by the garden’s owner to enjoy its fruits. In this brilliant, sui generis book, Ben Katchor illuminates the unique historical confluence of events and ideas that led to the proliferation of the dairy restaurant in New York City. In words and his inimitable drawings, he begins with Adam, entering Eden and eating the fruits therein. He examines ancient protocols for offerings to the gods and the kosher milk-meat taboo. He describes the first vegetarian practice, the development of inns offering food to travelers, the invention of the restaurant, the rise of various food fads, and the intersection between culinary practice and radical politics. Here, too, is an encyclopedic directory of dairy restaurants that once thrived in New York City and its environs, evoked by Katchor’s illustrations of classified advertisements, matchbooks, menus, and phone directory listings. And he ends on an elegiac note as he recollects his own experiences in many of these unique restaurants just before they disappeared — as have almost all the dairy restaurants in the New York metropolitan area.
The Dairy Restaurant
In The Dairy Restaurant, cartoonist and illustrator Ben Katchor captures the vanished spirit of the Jewish dairy restaurants that once dotted cities across North America. Part history, part memoir, part yellow pages, part fantastical mythical origin story, this book provides, in graphic-novel format, colorful context for understanding food taboos, the morality of eating, the roots of restaurant hospitality, and how these forces came together to explain the development of Jewish culinary institutions known for blintzes, noodle kugel, and baked herring. You’ll find background stories on such iconic restaurants as Ratner’s, B&H Dairy, and more, as well as menus, anecdotes from diners, and newspaper accounts of the dishes, waitstaff, ambience, and restaurant equipment that made each restaurant so special. Katchor traces the origins of the dairy restaurants to European milk bars, moving beyond the conventional analysis of the dairy restaurant as an “ant-deli” and rooting them in vegetarianism and European agriculture. Both text and black-and-white illustrations brim with nostalgia for the textures of the past. Katchor’s exhaustively researched, wildly playful workwill serve as an invaluable resource to better understand the history of Eastern European Jewish immigrant daily life in the New World and Jewish restaurants in the United States.
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