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The Summer Foods of Los Angeles Through the Ages

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Fri, May 24, 2013 at 11:27 AM

click to enlarge LAPL.ORG
  • lapl.org
Exploring the LAPL menu collection is an ongoing project in which we'll take a close look at the menus owned by the Los Angeles Public Library. Read about the project here.

As we enter the gateway to summer, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Los Angeles Public Library menu collection for a historical perspective on the foods of summer: barbecue, hot dogs and ice cream.

First we turn to barbecue, where we have a 1965 menu from Stern's Famous Barbecue in Culver City. The restaurant, which opened in 1922, was located at 12658 West Washington and had quite a following. There are internet forum threads dedicated to the deliciousness of the sauce. I was able to find out that the restaurant was started by Isadore Stern, who originally ran a butcher shop in Texas but on slow days would barbecue meats out back. The barbecue became more popular than the butcher, and when he moved to L.A. Sterns Famous Barbecue was born. It was attached to a motel.

Less clear is when or why the restaurant closed. Also, check out the "Counting Calories?" section of the menu -- proving that even in 1965, and even at a barbecue joint, there was the drudgery of calorie counting.

click to enlarge Stern's Famous Barbecue in Culver City - LAPL.ORG
  • lapl.org
  • Stern's Famous Barbecue in Culver City

How much would a hot dog cost you in the 1940s? $0.25 plain, $0.30 with toppings. That's according to the menu of the Hot Dog Show at 450 South La Cienega, dated 1949. It seems that there were a bunch of these hot dog shops, and the last one, on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake, closed just two years ago (Umami Burger has taken over the space).

click to enlarge The Hot Dog Show menu - LAPL.ORG
  • lapl.org
  • The Hot Dog Show menu
There are a ton of great menus in the collection that show how much this city has loved ice cream over the ages. The best is the amazing Blum's menu from the '60s, a restaurant described in a nostalgic post online this way: "Blum's was a pink spun sugar fantasy come to life. It had a gift shop. It had shocking pink banquettes. It had surly waitresses. And it had cake. Not those plastic looking, multi colored and tasteless layered cakes offered in cafes around Union Square. No. They had Blum's Famous Coffee Crunch cake. (This legendary cake is so memorable that Nancy Silverton has included a recipe for it in her latest cookbook.)"

It also had an ice cream fountain, with fresh fruit ices for $0.35, "luscious milk shakes" for $0.50, and "extra luscious milk shakes" for $0.60. At the top of the ice cream menu, there's even a poem:

some follies are foolish, some follies are wise

some follies are ziegfeld, some follies are ice

for fabulous, frivolous, frozen finales

standing room only at fountain fare follies

click to enlarge Blum's menu
  • Blum's menu
click to enlarge LAPL.ORG
  • lapl.org
See also:

- Memorial Day Weekend Food + Drink Specials

- Nostalgia For King's Tropical Inn Sparks a Trip to the L.A. Library's Menu Collection


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