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What NYC Restaurant Menus Looked Like 100 Years Ago Vs. Today

Moral of the story: Steak will always be the most expensive.

You might not know that the New York Public Library has a fascinating online database of vintage restaurant menus. Well, they do! And it's really cool.

The archive includes more than 17,000 menus from restaurants in New York and lots of other places, and the oldest ones date all the way back to the 1850s. You can even help index the items on menus any time you feel like productively procrastinating.

One especially neat thing is that a handful of the places that were open in New York back in the early 1900's are still operating today (in some incarnation), so you can see how much their menus have changed in the past century.

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Remember: Most of the turn-of-the-century prices are in CENTS, not dollars. A nickel in 1914 was worth slightly more than a dollar is today.

Delmonico's, 1914 vs. 2014

Most expensive item a century ago: Beluga caviar, filet mignon, boneless squab, or squab chicken, all $1.25 (adjusted for inflation, $30)

Most expensive item today: Cote de Boeuf for Two, $130

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Epigramme of lamb, Jardiniére (basically just braised lamb breast; you can try making your own with this New York Times recipe)

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Grand Central Terminal Restaurant, 1917 vs. Grand Central Oyster Bar, 2014

Most expensive item a century ago: Club steak, $4.00 (adjusted for inflation, $74.45)

Most expensive item today: Medley of shellfish platter with whole lobster, $66.55

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Live codfish steak (at what point does it become...not live?)

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, 1914 vs. Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria, 2014

Most expensive item a century ago: English Pheasant, $3.50 (adjusted for inflation, $83)

Most expensive item today: Steak Dianne, $39

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Weakfish, Bercy (runner-up: Chaudfroid of Chicken)

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Fraunces Tavern, 1914 vs. 2014

Most expensive item a century ago: Filet Mignon Victoria with Mushrooms, $2.50 (adjusted for inflation, $60)

Most expensive item today: Tomahawk Steak for Two, $81

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: FRESH CLEAR GREEN TURTLE SOUP

Walton's Old Homestead Oyster & Chop House, 1916 vs. Old Homestead Steakhouse, 2014

Most expensive item a century ago: Planked Steak for 4, $3.25 (adjusted for inflation, $71)

Most expensive item today: Japanese Kobe Beef, 12 oz, $350

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Pigs Feet, Deviled

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Lord & Taylor Restaurant And Tea Room, 1914 vs. Sarabeth's at Lord & Taylor today

Most expensive item a century ago: Extra Sirloin Steak (for three), $2.75 (adjusted for inflation, $65.50)

Most expensive item today: Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, $16

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Aiguillette of Bass Trouvillaise

The Plaza Hotel, 1913 vs. Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza, 2014

This comparison is a little off, because the Plaza's very elegant Palm Court is currently closed for renovations and about to be revamped with a new menu. But, in the meantime, Todd's what we've got.

Most expensive item a century ago: Rouennais Duck, $6.25 (adjusted for inflation, $150)

Most expensive item today: Large Raw Bar Tasting, $140

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Tournedos casserole, Chez-Soi

Bonus Round: Pennsylvania Railroad Restaurants, 1914 vs. Amtrak Lakeshore Limited Dining Car, 2014

Amtrak isn't a direct descendant of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Railroad, but it's worth noting that you could eat like royalty on an East Coast train in ye olden days.

Most expensive item a century ago: Duckling (half), celery salad, $.85 (adjusted for inflation, $20)

Most expensive item today: The Amtrak Signature Steak, $25.75

Most mysterious vintage delicacy: Old Virginia stuffed mangoes

This post has been updated to include post-inflation equivalents for items on the turn-of-the-century menus.

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