It’s hard to read restaurant and food blogs nowadays without hearing about the imminent opening of another meatless (aka plant-based) restaurant. Like it or not, the trend toward dining that eschews animal proteins is here to stay.
Which brings us to the title question. When did the opportunity for public consumption of vegan fare — or its precursor, vegetarianism — first come to New York? A blog with the alluring title Ephemeral New York notes the existence of “a local mini-chain called Farmfood,” which, the author writes, “served meat-free meals as far back as the 1930s to city residents who considered themselves vegetarians.”
But another blog called Restaurant-ing through history places the date much earlier, intimating that the first public vegetarian restaurants appeared in the U.S. in the 1890s, the very first of them right here, on West 23rd Street. The restaurant, which bore the unceremonious but accurate name “Vegetarian Restaurant No. 1,” opened in 1895:
It was sponsored by the New-York Vegetarian Society, which did not tolerate either taking life for food or drinking alcohol.
Sounds like a forerunner of PETA.
All of the restaurants of this era, the blog entry continues, had names meant to attest to their nutritional (and ethical!) purity, such as Hygienic Restaurant. And what kinds of dishes did they serve? The author lists selections that were typical on the menu of Chicago’s Mortimer Pure Food restaurant. Notice the prices. (The amounts are in cents.)
Asparagus on toast, 15
Roosevelt [vegetable] cutlet, with mushroom sauce, bread and butter, 20
Poached eggs, with rice and currie sauce, bread and butter, 25
Spinach, with poached eggs on toast, 25
Broiled new potatoes on toast, 20
Spaghetti a la Mortimer, 10
Broiled fresh mushrooms on toast, 25
Baked beans, 10