1940s Archive

Along the Boulevards

Originally Published October 1948

It is a favorite thesis of this department, and one confirmed and strengthened in its belief every time it crosses the Mississippi, that breakfast is not only a far more important meal in the Far West than it is in the effete precincts of the Atlantic seaboard, but that it is also a far more enjoyable one. Probably the greatest single defect of the American civilization, excepting only the wearing of trousers in public by women, is the neglect of breakfast and its decline from an institution of paramount significance to the merest parody of eating at all. No nation can long occupy a place in the sun which breakfasts off a dollop of fruit juice, a square of Melba toast, and a gulp of coffee, and the admirable fortitude of English people and institutions is splendidly maintained and exemplified by the circumstance that fish is a fixture in their breakfast menu.

In the American West, thank the gustatory gods, the general imagination isn't limited to a mere dreary brace of eggs and flitch of bacon. Meat, as God intended it should, abounds, and we have probably eaten more and better multinational steaks aboard the transcontinental trains of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific than in all the rest of the breakfasting world put together. Aboard our own railroad car, “The Gold Coast,” Mrs. Wedritz, the housekeeper, would as soon serve beer in the hock glasses as limit the breakfast bill to a bacon-and-eggs diet. The variety of chicken à la King, liver and bacon, chipped beef in cream, broiled kidneys, mountain trout, chops, steak, broiled ham, scrapple, hashes of fish, roast beef, and corned beef, sausages, venison in season, and, of course, mounds of thin little hot cakes and mountains of other hot breads she furnishes forth would make the average New Yorker scream for the bicarb bottle.

As an occasional alternate, there appears a chicken tamale, hot enough, if accidentally dropped, to fire the tablecloth. It is Mrs. Wedritz' idea that a four-egg omelette is the merest side dish to a Kansas City T bone blood-rare, and we have never made any attempt to discourage her. Steak, omelette, a pan of lyonnaise potatoes, two halves of a Texas grapefruit, a dozen soda biscuits, and a pot of coffee capable of sustaining a sadiron on its surface, she maintains, should last a body until early luncheon if his occupation requires no physical exertion. Additional measures must, of course, be taken if he is to engage in any endeavor more strenuous than smiting the keybars of a writing machine.

A proper breakfast is, of course, one of the explanations of the greatness of the Victorian and Edwardian ages. The processed breakfast food, a sorry farrago of air and roasted butcher's paper, was unknown, and if a man wanted porridge, a soup tureen of honest oatmeal went in ahead of the kidneys and popovers. Nor had Melba toast, the quintessence of futility, made any headway in the common consciousness. A good case for meat for breakfast as the most important factor in the success of the nineteenth century could be made. Something of the great breakfast tradition still survives in the Yankee households of New England, where codfish balls and hash, baked beans, and creamed salt fish are still regular fixtures, but elsewhere in the land its like is not re-encountered until the traveler is west of Chicago.

This is a situation which might well recommend itself to the learned attention and comment of those ultimate authorities on the American civilization, Charles and Mary Beard. The nation that makes its breakfast off nothing more than toast and coffee need not worry about its future. It has none.

One of the more epic jokes of the generation, although you may not agree with this department if you are one of the school of Martini drinkers who won't touch a cocktail if it has any color to it at all, is the fix the supersophisticated, extradry Martini aficionado has gotten himself into. A Martini, as God intended, is of course three parts dry gin and one part French vermouth, and anything drier than that is just a glass of iced gin. We know any number of persons who are “in-and-outers,” that is, they want vermouth poured over the ice in the shaker and then drained off before the gin is added, but this school of cocktail fanciers has, to coin a phrase, come a cropper. Bartenders so instructed have naturally produced a very pale cocktail, and the dry Martini fancier has come to evaluate his drink by eye on the theory, once reasonably valid, that if it were devoid of any color at all it must be very dry.

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