Prices are on the rise in restaurants these days, but a vintage menu from the early days of the Assonet Inn in the village of Assonet in Freetown reminds us of simpler times when the most expensive meal cost you around one dollar and a half.
The menu was posted to a Freetown Facebook group by Robbie Cissney, who told us his cousin and partners bought the Assonet Inn, and that’s where he found this classic menu.
A commentator fixed the period of the menu at 1936, but in a 2010 article, Herald News Writer Deborah Allard Dion reported that “When Earl Hadley bought Major John Deane’s summer home at 16 Water St. in Assonet Village in the 1940s, he didn’t change the house much to create the Assonet Inn”, which means it was probably from during this decade.
The menu announces “Dine and Dance”, “Banquets” and “Private Parties”. If you wanted to reserve one, all you had to do was “Tel. 88.” In those days, there were so few telephones in small towns on the south coast that two digits were enough. Fun Fact: The White House had a “1” phone number, but the first presidential phone call was actually made by Rutherford B. Hayes at Rocky Point in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Anyway, let’s step back in time and dine at the Assonet Inn circa 1940s.
Want to start with an aperitif? Well, you can choose from a clam cocktail (25 cents), an oyster cocktail (30 cents), a crabmeat cocktail (35 cents), or a lobster cocktail (40 cents), among others. Why not be really chic and have imported caviar (40 cents)? It’s also worth noting that tomato juice was considered an “appetizer” at the time, costing you 15 cents, and olives and celery also seemed to be a very popular appetizer option.
Perhaps you fancy a rare Welsh bit (40 cents) tonight? Or maybe upgrade it to a Golden Buck for just 10 cents more? Modern diners may not be familiar with these dishes, but the Welsh rarebit is really just a hot cheese sauce poured over toast, and a Golden Buck is the same item but with an over-easy egg. or poached added on toast.
How about a good sirloin steak for 90 cents? If you want to splurge, you can get a filet mignon for $1.00.
Me, I crave seafood. I can’t decide between a grilled or cold boiled lobster ($1.00), a Newburg lobster ($1.00) or a Thermidor lobster ($1.50 $). By comparison, the Thermidor lobster in 2022 will set you back $39 at The Black Whale in New Bedford, according to its online menu.
Do I have to spend the extra 20 cents to have clam chowder with this?
Of course, if we’re really hungry, we should just order one of the full dinners, like the sirloin steak dinner ($1.25), which includes tomato juice or a fruit cocktail, olives, celery, soup, sirloin steak, potatoes, vegetables, salad, dessert and coffee or tea.
How about a full turkey dinner for $1.50? You can start with a cup of fruit or tomato juice, olives, celery, soup, Vermont roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, and coffee. or tea.
I think I’ll change my lobster order for the full shore dinner ($1.50) with clam cocktail, olives, celery, clam chowder, steamed clams, grilled whole lobster, butter sauce, apples ground, vegetables, dessert and coffee or tea. I could also pay 15 cents for a bottle of beer to go with it.
Let’s just say it’s a menu from mid-decade, 1945. If that were the case, the federal minimum wage at the time was 40 cents an hour, which means the average wage for an eight-hour day was $3.20. Two full dinners (assuming we had the full dinners, that is) would cost about $3.00 plus tip, so a trip to the Assonet Inn for a good night out would probably have cost us a day full salary.
Thinking about it in those terms, it’s not too far off from a meal like it would cost these days, is it?
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