Whats on the Menu: The Geiser Grand Hotel Restaurant

By: Emily Livingston

With the emergence of urban areas in the late 1800s and early 1900s came a new type of eating experience for wealthy people across the country. Restaurants began to open for the first time, allowing people to dine outside the house and enjoy elaborate meals cooked by other people and served to them based on their own selection from the menu. Some of the very first restaurants began to open in the North East where urban scene grew quickly and in the South and along the Mississippi River, however, there were new restaurants opening on the West Coast as well as people migrated to the other half of the country in search of gold.  Many of the first restaurants were opened in hotels as travelers had no kitchen to prepare food in. One of these West Coast hotels, the Geiser Grand Hotel, which opened in 1889, opened its restaurant in 1905 complete with its own unique menu.

The Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City, Oregon was one of the first hotels in the northwest. It was written, “the building contained technology that was practically unheard of for the day: an elevator, the third one ever built west of the Mississippi River. There was a four-story clock tower and a 200-foot corner cupola. A second-floor balcony overlooked the dining room’s marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and Honduran mahogany paneling. High overhead light filtered through a stained glass ceiling” (Helderman).

The Geiser Grand Hotel restaurant attracted many with its upscale but unique menu. Among more traditional items such as salted peanuts, onions, radishes and dill pickles, the customer could find various intricate meals that could be found nowhere else.

One could order the tenderloin of moose larded, champignons which was served with asparagus and butter. As Baker City is surrounded by mountains, there were often no ways to import foods in during the winter, leaving the people to use what they had available to them. The moose was not very common but it was available. To prepare the moose, one would skin and clean the meat, much like any other animal. When cooking the meat, one would typically use a cast iron skillet and saute the meat with mushrooms and lard. The moose meat would be prepared much like any other meat, however, the internal temperature must reach 155 degrees to ensure that the meat is cooked fully but not overdone and the meat would be soaked in lard so that it would become less rough and more edible (Audrey, Patti)

This menu also features boiled calf’s head with a vinaigrette. This meal was a masterpiece to be served to all at the table. It was almost always served whole in the center of the table where it is carved for each person to share. To cook this meal, one would begin by boiling the entire head for three to four minuets before removing from the pot and scraping off all the hair. Next, one would remove the eyes, the ears, and the brain and place them aside in a bowl of war water. Then one would place the head back in a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to boil to make the head white again. One would then remove any remaining scraps and the tongue from the head and let it simmer in a pot for two and a half to three hours. While the head is simmering, one would skin the tongue and the put it with the brains and skins which would simmer with parsley, melted butter and salt and pepper in a separate pot for about fifteen minuets. Finally, the head would be served on a platter with the brain mix either restuffed in the head or in a separate dish with fresh chopped cucumber (Gouffé).

This menu may sound foreign to us today, but it was also very different then the menus in the rest of America at the time. The Geiser Grand Hotel restaurant plays the unique roll in being one of the only restaurants open at the time in northwestern America. Because of this, we are introduced to new items that have never been made before such as moose. This restaurant was also clearly influenced by the immigrants who were eating there at the time. Many Chinese immigrants settled in the west, however, they were often part of the lower class and were only allowed to come into the hotel for the brothels. Instead, many Italian and French immigrants were dining at the restaurant and have influenced the dishes. In many of the dishes an Italian meal is prepared but topped with a French sauce (Helderman). 

To get a better understanding of this menu and some of the different dishes it offered, I attempted to prepare the Spring Lamb a La Windsor with a mint Julep for my family and friends to enjoy.

I began by heading to the grocery store and purchasing all the ingredients I might need. The Ingredients list is as followed:

  • 2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 bunch dill
  • 3 small bunches tarragon
  • 4 scallions or spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 small preserved lemons, skin and flesh chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more
  • 1 (6–7-lb.) bone-in leg of lamb
  • 4 lb. baby Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • Flaky sea salt

One of the most difficult parts of preparing this meal was finding all the ingredients at the local grocery store. Because I only had access to limited sources, I had to substitute a few ingredients along the way.

Once I had all the ingredients ready to go, I had to roast the coriander seeds and the fennel seeds until they because fragrant. After this, I mixed all the spices and seasonings with the nuts and smashed them together with olive oil, salt and lemon juice to create a thick paste.

Next, I placed the lamb chops on a long sheet of tin foil over a baking sheet and coated the pieces with the paste.

Once the paste was on and ready to go, I wrapped up the meat tightly and placed in the oven at 325° for about two hours.

Meanwhile, I began to create a frozen mint julep. For this, all that was needed was:

  • Burbon Whiskey
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Water
  • Fresh Mint Leaves
  • Ice

For this drink, I mixed sugar and water in a pot till it came to a boil and all the salt had dissolved into the water, creating a sugary syrup. Next, I poured this syrup over fresh mint leaves in a bowl and let sit until it was completely cooled.

Once it was cooled, I removed the mint leaves from the syrup and the poured the syrup in a blender with the bourbon and ice. I then blended until smooth and served with a mint garnish.

By the time I had finished the mint julep, it was time for me to begin preparing the potatoes and green beans that would accompany the lamb. To prepare the baby golden Yukon potatoes, I simply boiled them in a pot of water with salt for about 30 minuets.

For the green beans, however, I took a creative license and sautéed them with butter, oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper, onion powder and a little bit of Kansas City’s sweet Barbecue sauce.

Once the sides were prepared and ready to go, so was the lamb. I carefully removed the lamb from the oven and unwrapped it making sure that the juices stayed on the baking sheet. I then placed the individual lamb chops on a cutting board and removed the bones from the meat, cutting the pieces as I went. I then transferred the lamb to a platter with the potatoes and green beans. Next, I poured the remaining lamb juices over the dish and then added oil and salt to the dish. Finally, I sprinkled some herbs that were left over from earlier over the meat and brought it to the table for the meal.

Overall, I learned from this experience that this meal took a lot of time to prepare. Overall, I was preparing the meal for about two hours and cooking it for about three hours and these times are shorter then what the recipe originally called for because I cut the portions in half. I also prepared enough for four people while someone who would order the lamb at the restaurant could order it for just one person or for the whole table.

I also decided that I really do not mind lamb, however, I would not eat it on a regular basis. The potatoes, however, were actually way more delicious and flavorful then I expected as they were just boiled. The paste that was on the lamb went very well with the potatoes. In the end, I enjoyed this experience and I think there was a lot of value in cooking something from 1905 as it shows how preparing and eating food back then was a process and should be appreciated.

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