This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
As true a type as the French M. Joseph of the restaurateur, as distinguished from the hotel keeper by all the traits we have already enumerated is the American, Mr. Taft, pictured below. He must indeed be an enthusiast, as the correspondents all agree in calling him, to carry his hobby of keeping everything that can be called for always on hand to such a successful extent as is described. Says one, recounting a visit to the place:
"Taft's is a great institution, and the person who visits Boston and does not go there has seen, or rather eaten, nothing.
The fish dinners gotten up at that famous resort are not equalled, probably, anywhere in the world. Mr. Taft is an old gentleman of over seventy, thin and tall as a rail, with snow-white hair. He is the greatest enthusiast we ever saw. It is a sight to see him bring in dish after dish, every one prepared under his personal superintendence, and carry it around the table for the inspection of every guest. His face is all aglow with pride and excitement and his features plainly say: 'What do you think of that? Isn't it magnificent?' We asked him were he learned to cook. 'My mother chucked me under the kitchen table when I was three weeks old and there I stayed,' was his answer; and we believe him. Dinners of twenty and more courses are common occurrences here, and the charges are not exorbitant The old gentleman was asked why he brought the 'turbot,' which he claims is the finest fish, in the world, first on the table. 'Ah,' he replied, the best, to be fully appreciated, must always be eaten when the appetite is keenest; then you relish it immensely.' Logic which certainly proved correct in our case, for we thought that turbot the finest thing we had ever tasted".
Taft has a printed bill of fare or card of what can be had at his establishment, in which it is his pride to enumerate nearly all the edible birds and fishes, ending with humming birds served in nut shells. The list has been printed in the newspapers as a curiosity frequently. It would be impossible to give a more graphic and interesting account of the man and the place, or particulars more readable to restaurateurs than this from the Philadelphia News. It is better than a lecture on restaurant-keeping. This writer remarks:
" 'Taft does not serve general meals as does a restaurant,'" but it does not imply that Taft's is not the truest kind of a restaurant, it is one devoted to the specialties of fish and game, the very opposite of the table d'hote; a place where you can easily run your bill up to forty or fifty dollars' for dinner.
" Boston has what I consider the greatest gastronomic prize in the world in Taft's. The name stands for both the man and the place. I can truthfully say of it that the bon vivant who confesses ignorance to his and its existence has no right to claim that he has lived. Taft? I hear you say. I don't suppose there are a hundred men in Philadelphia who ever heard the name before, and yet it is the only place in the wide world where you can obtain any edible fish that swims, perfectly cooked. Only one divinely inspired can cook a fish. A man of fair culinary education can accomplish marvels with meats and vegetables and sweetmeats, but how few of even our famous chefs can give a fish that delicate treatment without which it has no temptation for the educated palate. At Gloucester, in the planked shad, we have a dish that should stand second in the list of piscatorial delicacies. The first place should unquestionably be given to the tur-bot as cooked at Taft's.
"Taft is a white-haired octogenarian who owns a roomy frame structure on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean at Point Shirley, seven miles from Boston. I took dinner there two weeks ago, but it lives In my memory as vividly as though it were yesterday. I can never forget it. Old Taft entertained us for some time when we entered the parlor with reminiscences of the famous men who have visited his house. When Charles Dickens was in this country he and Nathanial Hawthorne, Henry W. Longfellow, Charles Sumner and John W. Forney frequently sat together in one of the little dining rooms. Taft takes great delight in exhibiting the treasures of his larder. Men who have visited his house send him trophies of the gun and rod from every quarter of the globe. I thought I would nonplus him when he proudly said: 'Gentlemen, I can furnish you with any edible fish or bird that you may name.' 1 said: ' Have you any reed birds?" He looked at me quizzically and said: ' You are from Philadelphia? ' I said:' What makes you think so?'
' Because,' he replied, 'it is the only place in this country where you get reed birds - except here,' and he held up a bunch of little bursting balls of golden fat - the little cherubs that the Philadelphia epicure bows down before and worships. He showed me even plump little humming birds, each one snugly packed in the half of an English walnut shell. But his display of fish! It makes my mouth water to simply think of the tempting sight. He had every finny delicacy I had ever heard of and many that were entirely new to me, even by name. 'Try again,' he said to me, laughingly. 'Perhaps you can name a fish I haven't got.' I naturally thought that the simplest of all, and yet one of the sweetest, would be forgotten in this wonderful array, and so I said: ' I want some Schuylkill catfish'.
"'Now I know you are from Philadelphia,' he said, smilingly, as he reached far down in a big ice box and produced a string of our humble ' catties'.
"Taft does not serve general meals as does a restaurant He will provide you with a strictly fish dinner or a strictly game dinner or a combination of both. For the fish dinner, which is really a culinary marvel, he charges two dollars without wines. For what he terms his ' regular ' game dinner he charges three dollars and a half, but if you wish to select from his larder what you wish you can very easily run your bill up to forty or fifty dollars, even though there are but three or four in the party. The dinner I partook of was especially ordered, and was a combination of both fish and game. I want to say right here by way of apology for the tale I have to tell that the appetites of myself and companions had been sharpened to a keen edge by a carriage ride of seven and a half miles in 'a nipping and an eager air,' salted with the spray that the wind swept in from the bosom of the broad Atlantic.
"We began the feast by each one consuming about fifty steamed clams - not the tough little morsels that we call delicacies, but the long, soft shell tid-bits, of which you eat only the sweet morsels at the end after you have dipped it in melted butter. Fifty are looked upon as constituting only a moderate appetizer. Each dish that followed this was labeled by a small card bearing in letters of gold the name of the subject about to be discussed and held in place and aloft by a toothpick piercing both the card and the fish or bird, whichever the dish happened to be. The first dish proved the fiece de resistance. It was a large turbot. The card bore this legend:
Taft's Turbot. King of the Sea.
"It was truly a beautiful sight. At the edges it was of a creamy white, that deepened on the sides into a golden hue that became gradually richer and richer, until at the top it became a delicate brown. And then what snowy flakes it broke into under the fork I And what sweetness when it entered the mouth 1 I can truthfully say that I have never eaten fish before. Its memory haunts me still. I confess that when I had fully realized the wonder of that turbot I reached over the table and seized that little card, and I have it before me now.
"The next fish placed before us was a rock cod, which was excelled in delicacy and sweetness only by the glorious turbot, of which, by the way, we did not leave one morsel. Taft accompanied each dish into the room and for our especial benefit delivered a brief dissertation on Its merits. The rest of the banquet consisted solely of game. The list may make your mouth water. We had chicken grouse and Lake Erie teal, both the finest I ever tasted In my life; jack 6nipes, peeps - wee little birds and very toothsome; reed bids - not equal to those of Philadelphia; and last of all humming birds cooked in nut shells. The last were really not worth eating, being dry and tasteless. But I wanted to say that I had eaten a humming bird, and now I can say It. Taken altogether, it was a banquet fit for the gods, and it made me " feel glad that I was permitted to live - and to be at point Shirley!"