Lost Tables and Lost Dishes pay tribute to the St. Louis restaurants of yesteryear
St. Louisans are known to ask each other, “Where did you go to high school?” But Dr. Harley Hammerman is interested in a different conversation starter — one that evokes memories of food and the restaurants of St. Louis that are no longer with us:
“What restaurants do you most miss?”
Hammerman is a radiologist by day, but the self-proclaimed foodie runs two blogs that take St. Louis readers down memory lane: Lost Tables and Lost Dishes. The former details the history of beloved food establishments no longer running, while the latter highlights some of their signature dishes.
Hammerman’s efforts were featured in this month’s issue of Sauce Magazine. He joined host Sarah Fenske on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to delve into his research process, favorite restaurants and more. We also opened the phone lines for listeners to share their food memories.
Related: ‘A Culinary History of Missouri’ explores the history of what we ate and how we cooked it
For Hammerman, a childhood passion for playwright Eugene O’Neill led to amassing a sizable archive of materials. That led to a website to display them. After he sold the archive to Washington University, he found himself pondering a University City eatery he loved as a child — a place that made what he considers to be epitome of fried chicken: Golden Fried Chicken Loaf.
“I started researching that and did a lot of research and actually got the domain name goldenfriedchickenloaf.com ... and then I figured out, ‘Hmm, there's only so far this can go,’” Hammerman recalled.
He decided to research other restaurants he remembered from his youth. He thought about naming the blog Vanishing Tables, but ultimately settled on Lost Tables.
After Hammerman publicized his articles on Facebook, starting a group that now has more than 9,000 members, others jumped in to share their thoughts and memories of eateries around town.
The endeavor has turned Hammerman into an amateur food journalist. After digging through newspaper records, ancestry sites and newspaper archives, he’s also been able to set the record straight on previously unverified claims.
“I use primary sources when I can, and it's amazing what you find out about a restaurant that's different than what's been in the newspaper articles over the years. A lot of the journalists didn't have the resources that I have, so they would use the article that came before them five years or 10 years ago,” he explained. “So they would sort of carry forward misconceptions.”
As an example, he pointed to Teutenberg’s, a local bakery chain long credited as having opened in 1812. It was even in the company’s tagline. Hammerman’s research revealed that its founder was actually born in 1813, in what was then Prussia. “No one questioned how a man born in Prussia in 1813 could open a bakery in St. Louis in 1812,” he noted on his blog dryly.
Every once in a while, Hammerman is able to directly interview the descendants of the people who built the restaurants he features on Lost Tables.
“A lot of the families don't know as much as I end up knowing. Not only do I put the history, but I'm able to find old photographs. I've got a huge menu collection and I put the full menus online, so I get emails from grandchildren that [say]: ‘Thank you, thank you. I didn't know this about the restaurant and I see these photographs I've never seen before.’ And that's one of the most rewarding parts of doing this,” he said.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.