Showing posts with label automat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label automat. Show all posts

Sunday, April 24, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy: The Automat and More

The quintessential New York City "casual dining" experience during the 1950s was at one of the Horn & Hardart Automats. The last one in Manhattan was near the Daily News building on Third Avenue and 42nd Street, and I remember going there to enjoy the Art Deco ambiance, not just the food.

As discussed in a Smithsonian article and in a book called The Automat, the Automat was cavernous and self-serve, with reasonably-priced hot and cold meals as well as prepared food ready for takeout by hungry commuters on their way home.

Eat-in customers would get a handful of nickels from the change lady and pump a few nickels into the slots to buy . . . well, my friend Rich's favorite was applesauce cake. My absolute favorite was sticky buns. My twin sis remembers great mac 'n cheese (the recipe, cut to family proportions by food maven Arthur Schwartz, can be found here).

My first restaurant experience on my own was a trip to the local Chinese restaurant at the corner of 225th Street and White Plains Road in the Bronx, at the foot of the steps leading to the elevated subway stop. I was 11 when I met my classmate Linda Kelly at the restaurant one weekend afternoon (we were in 6th grade at PS 103 together). We read the menu and ordered "one from column A and one from column B" plus wonton soup and spare ribs. When the bill came, we each had just enough money to pay our half.

I went home feeling very grown up because my friend and I had dined out all on our own. Only later did my parents think to mention that people usually leave a tip after a meal. Oooooops. I'm certain that my father stopped into the restaurant and slipped a couple of dollars to the owner or waiter, along with his thanks for treating two young girls with dignity during their first "grown up" restaurant meal.