Both narrowly targeted and searchingly broad, this religio-cultural-culinary historical deep dive from Katchor (Cheap Novelties) is ostensibly a study of the “dairy restaurants” that once served New York’s Jewish immigrant community. But Katchor ranges much further afield, often but not always in rewarding tangents. Interleaving dense text blocks with his usual sketchy, angular, but somehow ethereal drawings in gray and white, Katchor starts with the mythology of the Garden of Eden, where the drama of Adam, Eve, God, and the forbidden fruit establishes “the relationship between patron, proprietor, and waiter.” From there, Katchor roams through Torah restrictions on the “proper handling of milk and meat,” to the issues that arise when observant Jews ate with Gentiles, how the pastoral ideal merged with the rise of the restaurant, the “complex culture of milk drinking” and “Milchhallen” (milk- and cheese-focused cafes), and Tevye’s role as Sholem Aleichem’s tragicomic milkman. By the time Katchor gets to his loving accounting of New York’s mostly disappeared dairy restaurants, including original menus, he has nearly lost the threads of community, religion, exile, assimilation, and longing for the tastes of childhood that he so ambitiously tried to tie together. Exhaustive and somewhat exhausting, this graphic history shows again Katchor’s gimlet eye for curious connections and obsessive attention to detail. (Mar.)
Delectable . . . Obsessive, melancholy, and hungry-making . . . This dense cultural and culinary history is reason enough to come to The Dairy Restaurant. But Katchor, who made his name in the 1990s with his weekly comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, and has won a MacArthur fellowship, has a sharp mind and a sly sense of humor. His words and his charcoal-palette drawings have a combinatory intelligence . . . There is a moving memoirish aspect to The Dairy Restaurant. A perambulator, Katchor has always been expert at capturing the texture and sociology of vanishing aspects of city life.”
—The New York Times
“If you’re facing an extended period of self-isolation, it’s a perfect read. Along with its physical heft, The Dairy Restaurant is philosophical and funny, authoritative and questioning, deeply Jewish and almost gleefully iconoclastic.”
“Ben Katchor sees into the life of everything he touches. The Dairy Restaurant is surely his capolavoro, an endless fund of news, digressions, wit, lore. He is a professor of the wayward fact, the lost particular, the hidden detail. Nothing fails to interest him. I want to sit next to nobody but him on my next international flight.”
—Alexander Theroux, author of Darconville's Cat
“Ben Katchor has captured the spirit of old Jewish New York in his graphic novels such as Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer and The Jew of New York. The Dairy Restaurant isn’t a typical graphic novel, though there is art. Instead it’s a fascinating hybrid format, part history/philosophy/rumination, part graphic imagery . . . As in all of Katchor’s books, The Dairy Restaurant lovingly chronicles and restores a vanishing cultural fixture for us. This time, though, he’s added a thick lawyer of scholarship and though-provoking musings. He has served up a very satisfying dish here.”
—New York Journal of Books
"A studiously constructed compendium of narrative history . . . Whoever truly captures the dairy restaurant, captures an entire lost world. That’s what Katchor has tried to do, and no one else could have done it."
“Colorful anecdotes, trivia, and food lore . . . An informative, nostalgic evocation of a special urban dining experience.”
“The Dairy Restaurant also has the quality of an illuminated Haggadah. Because Katchor is a wonderful cartoonist, his book can be looked at as well as read. In that sense it is a chronicle of Katchor’s distinctively blocky yet delicate characters, drawn from the Hebrew Bible as well as history . . . A trove of fun facts . . . Like much of Katchor’s work, The Dairy Restaurant is haunted by a sense of the vanished and ephemeral.”
“Both narrowly targeted and searchingly broad . . . Rewarding . . . This graphic history shows again Katchor’s gimlet eye for curious connections and obsessive attention to detail.”
Celebrated cartoonist Katchor (The Jew of New York) offers a visual and textual treat about the history of the dairy restaurant, beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden. The author proceeds to explain the establishment of Kosher dietary laws and briefly mentions arguments posited by biblical scholars about the separation of meat, dairy, and neutral foods. Readers learn about the origins of restaurants, specifically, vegetarian ones, and the European wellsprings of dairy establishments. When Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States in the 19th century, the dairy restaurant became as much a staple as their more famous counterpart, the delicatessen. The volume concentrates primarily on New York dairy restaurants, from the 19th to the late 20th centuries. Included are restaurant names, addresses, advertisements, and menus reflective of a largely bygone world. VERDICT A wonderful survey of a type of restaurant once ubiquitous and now down to a handful. Katchor contributes a worthy and welcome volume to the genre of Kosher cuisine.—Jacqueline Parascandola, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
An account of once-popular New York restaurants that had a rich social and cultural history.
"Since, by choice or historical necessity, exile and travel were defining aspects of Jewish life, somewhere a Jew was always eating out," observes cartoonist and MacArthur fellow Katchor (Illustration/Parsons, the New School; Hand-Drying in America, 2013, etc.) in his exhaustively researched, entertaining, and profusely illustrated history of Jewish dining preferences and practices. The Garden of Eden, he notes wryly, was "the first private eating place open to the public," serving as a model for all the restaurants that came after: cafes, cafeterias, buffets, milk halls, lunch counters, diners, delicatessens, and, especially, dairy restaurants, a favorite destination among New York Jews, which Katchor remembers from his wanderings around the city as a young adult. Dairy restaurants, because they served no meat, attracted diners who observed kosher laws; many boasted a long menu that included items such as mushroom cutlet, blintzes, broiled fish, vegetarian liver, and fried eggplant steak. Attracted by the homey appearance and "forlorn" atmosphere of these restaurants, Katchor set out to uncover their history, engaging in years of "aimless reading in the libraries of New York and on the pages of the internet," where he found menus, memoirs, telephone directories, newspaper ads, fiction, and food histories that fill the pages of his book with colorful anecdotes, trivia, and food lore. Although dairy restaurants were popular with Jewish immigrants, their advent in the U.S. predated immigrants' demand for Eastern European meatless dishes. The milk hall, often located in parks, resorts, or spas, gained popularity throughout 19th-century Europe. Franz Kafka, for example, treated himself to a glass of sour milk from a milk pavilion after a day in a Prague park. Jews were not alone in embracing vegetarianism. In Europe and America, shunning meat was inspired by several causes, including utopian socialism, which sought to distance itself from "the beef-eating aristocracy"; ethical preferences; and health concerns. A meatless diet relieved digestive problems, many sufferers found.
An informative, nostalgic evocation of a special urban dining experience.