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Desert Companion

UNLV's historic menu collection: A feast for the eyes

When you're eating out, the dining experience begins long before that first forkful hits the flavor zone (i.e., your mouth). It starts with the menu - you know, the anticipation, the giddy indecision, the fatal mispronunciation of bruschetta. And UNLV Libraries has turned Vegas' rich culinary history into a visual feast with its recently launched online collection of historical menus, "Menus: The Art of Dining."

At the library's website, you can browse menus from hundreds of restaurants of yesteryear, from the 101 Ranch House (fronted by an appetite-jarring bucking bronco, no less) to the Aladdin (its room service menu presented by a curvy genie, natch) to Circus Circus' iconic Pink Pony, whose menu is whimsical and iconic.

"This collection provides a great opportunity for us to be able to examine culinary trends and how they've changed over the years," says Pat Moreo, chair of UNLV's Department of Food and Beverage.

Oh, and if you thought Claim Jumper pioneered the idea of caloric overload by the shovelful, think again. Back in the day, Moreo notes, when people went out to eat, they ate. "One striking thing is the quantity of food people would eat," he says. "The number of courses they served were pretty huge."

And inexpensive. A Southern-style half spring chicken, with hot buttermilk biscuits and honey for $1.90 at downtown's storied Blue Onion restaurant? Sure! Aside from long-gone bargains, the menus also offer a glimpse into the design aesthetics of yesteryear - sometimes stylish, often corny. For example, the Union Plaza's Easter menu looks like more like a religious tract than a guide to good eats, and old El Rancho's wine list features - what else? - a cowgirl working a wine press. We say yee-haw to that. Check out "Menus: The Art of Dining" at http://digital.library.unlv.edu/collections/menus.

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