I've collected menus for about 18 years, more or less since I began reviewing restaurants. I'm not a serious collector like Stevan Steinhart, but a lot of menus cross my path, and they interest me, so I save them when I remember to do so.
Where I store them is in the basement. Which floods by a couple of inches every few years. This spring, the seepage — even before The Deluge — was higher and more frequent than usual. I opened a trunk in April and the menu collection was dangerously damp and mildewy.
At some point, old stuff turns the corner and is suddenly "historic" — a lot of my menus date back to the mid-1990s, so they qualify as historic, but not if they're waterlogged. So the collection was brought out, cleaned up, and sorted and set aside, weeks before the flood, thank goodness.
Most of the restaurants attached to these menus are gone. The great Zola, Crab House, Cafe Bambino (its closing just gutted me), Quails, Ombi and Trilogy all got it right but are shuttered. There were surprises like Chopstick Inn in Goodlettsville that were exceptional where I expected ordinary. (Fun to read for the interesting entrees and the soupçon of Chinglish.)
The menus recipes from still-operating restaurants offer a glimpse of what we were excited to eat 15 years ago at Nashville's favorite places: Blackstone Brewery, Bro's, Goten, Tin Angel, Sunset, Bound'ry, Food Company and more.
Writing a history book about Nashville last year underlined the importance of cultural documents, so the collection is going to the Nashville Room at the public library. (And I respectfully challenge Stevan Steinhart to donate his collection, too, when the time is right.)
Someday, someone like me, who loves digging in archives and reading about old foodways, will find the menus, particularly the tasting menu from Bound'ry on December 2, 1995, and it will seem like a time capsule: lowfat offerings, the beer-and-appetizer pairings and the single barrel scotches. Maybe s/he will make a dissertation from it — or maybe just a blog post — but a view into the past is never wasted.