Collecting Southern Menus for a Museum Elizabeth Williams, director of the soon-to-be-opened Southern Food and Beverage Museum, has collected menus from restaurants, roadside stands and Sweet 16 parties from all across the South. She says there's more to southern cooking than barbecue and greens.
NPR logo

Collecting Southern Menus for a Museum

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6356187/6356196" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Collecting Southern Menus for a Museum

Collecting Southern Menus for a Museum

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6356187/6356196" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Believe it or not, there's more to Southern cooking than sweet tea, barbecue and, of course, greens. Ever had a morsel of fried pork rinds in salsa, or a taste of chitlins dipped in honey? They're on the menu as well, as Elizabeth Williams can testify. For her job as director of the soon-to-be-opened Southern Food and Beverage Museum, Ms. Williams has been collecting menus from restaurants, roadside stands, and even Sweet 16 parties all over the South.

She joins us now from New Orleans.

How are you, Ms. Williams?

Ms. ELIZABETH WILLIAMS (Director, Southern Food and Beverage Museum): Just fine, thank you.

SEABROOK: Good. How many of these menus do you have so far?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I want to say between 5,000 and 6,000.

SEABROOK: What is on the menu in the southern United States?

Ms. WILLIAMS: We have everything. We've got Chinese restaurants, Thai restaurants, Italian restaurants, and all of that. But we also have grits and crawfish, and meat-and-three, and that kind of stuff are still here in the South. And of course there is the constant debate over whether it's going to be sweet tea or unsweetened tea.

SEABROOK: Right, of course. And you know, I love, I love a great meat-and-three restaurant. We should tell people that's where you get to pick one meat and three sides. Right? And a vegetable is something like, I don't know...

Ms. WILLIAMS: Macaroni and cheese.

SEABROOK: Macaroni and cheese is a vegetable. Exactly. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SEABROOK: What's my favorite part. What's surprising about these menus?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, as you begin to collect a depth of menus from a particular location, it's certainly possible to see what kind of ethnic restaurants are in various cities, as that changes with different kinds of immigration. Even things like how something is described: instead of being a ham sandwich, it becomes brown bread with butter and special mustard and such and such a kind of ham. You know, that kind of thing.

SEABROOK: Right. Right.

Ms. WILLIAMS: So all those trends are reflected in menus.

SEABROOK: And do you have anything older than the last couple of years?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Yes, we do. Some people have begun to send us their personal collections. And so some of those do go back into the sort of 1920s, is probably about the oldest thing that we have. You can find wonderful menus from diners that are - instead of perhaps baked beans, you would have white beans and shrimp or something like that.

SEABROOK: Right.

Ms. WILLIAMS: But it's still a diner menu.

SEABROOK: Ms. Williams, are there any of these menus that stick in your mind. Any favorite you have?

Ms. WILLIAMS: I guess my favorites are the ones that are anniversary celebrations. And they put little notes on the menu and they've brought it home with them to save it. And it just shows you how important something that happened in a restaurant is to people that they take this little memento home with them. So really the menu reflects culture.

SEABROOK: Well, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. WILLIAMS: My pleasure.

SEABROOK: Elizabeth Williams of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans.

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.