The menu is going "old school" for The Museum and Railroad Historical Center's first Dinner on the Diner fundraiser Saturday.
Nancy Goplerud, Lander University dining services and Old Main Catering general manager, said extensive research has been done to plan a delectable three-course meal that is worthy of an elegant dining experience aboard The Museum and Railroad Historical Center's renovated Erie-Lackawanna rail car.
Ticket holders who have made reservations for the two dinner seatings, at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, will enjoy food by Old Main Catering including appetizers, wine, dinner and dessert, along with a cash bar by Howard's on Main. Seating is limited and only a handful of tickets might still be available. Call 864-229-7093 for details. Tickets are $80 per person and $75 for members.
"The whole menu is very old school," Goplerud said. "A number of the items we've researched and chosen to serve were served on trains.... Diner cars were a big thing for the railroads. They had some really good chefs and train travel was regarded as an elegant experience. Depending on which train you were on, they would try to highlight dishes from areas along their passenger travel routes."
Karen Park Jennings, executive director for The Museum and Railroad Historical Center, said the dining car in the center's rail car collection has been restored to look like it did when it was remodeled during the late 1940s.
"Many of the items on this vintage-inspired menu for the fundraiser have really stood the test of time," Jennings said.
The menu includes choices of: a Bloody Mary shrimp cocktail; a Waldorf salad, with lemon dressing and romaine lettuce; seared salmon, with a lemon-cayenne-caper sauce, served over wilted spinach and sweet potatoes; prime rib au jus, along with a twice-baked potato with caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese and whole green beans.
Desserts, to be served in shot glasses, include: blackberry and mint brownie, peanut butter pie, salted caramel cheesecake and coconut key lime.
"The classic Waldorf salad includes grapes, apples, walnuts and celery," Goplerud said. "Ours may be served with pecans in place of walnuts, but it will be served with a lemon dressing and on romaine lettuce."
After dinner, guests are invited to move to a tent on the center's grounds, to enjoy a coffee bar and four miniature dessert choices.
One of the Railroad Historical Center volunteers, Jacob Woods, has helped the center acquire an authentic antique Deagan chime, used on Pullman cars to signal dinner service, Jennings said.
"The chime is actually a sponsorship opportunity, if someone would like to contribute toward our renovation project and like sponsorship naming rights for the chime," Jennings said.
Another volunteer, Pat Dorrity, has made table linens and napkins for the diner car, Jennings said.
"The entire railroad committee for the center has been a great help, getting the diner car ready, building steps, working on doorways and the floor," Jennings said. "Original light fixtures are to be working and their will be air-conditioning in the car. Volunteers have been working hard to get this done."
The dining car has room to seat 48 people at a time, Jennings said, noting she has given thought to Dinner on the Diner becoming an annual event.
Lander University's Old Main Catering took top prize in The Museum and Railroad Historical Center's first diner car cook-off in October of last year.
"We had a lot of fun with that and we were up for the challenge of the dinner service," Goplerud said, noting the car's kitchen is not operational, but the catering staff is working around that to prepare the courses. "Railroad kitchens were really interesting.... They often had three people in the kitchen and a wait staff.
"Many a railroad chef lost part of a finger while working, because the train would jolt. At least we are not having to do this on a moving train. Fires in the cars could be a danger, too. There were some hazards involved."
According to information at food52.com, the classic Waldorf salad is said to have been created by the original ma'®tre d'h'´tel of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Many variations of the salad abound, with some early versions said to not include walnuts.
The following recipe can be found at food52.com and is a slight adaptation from a Waldorf salad recipe in a 1939 cookbook, "Home at the Range". (NOTE: This is not the recipe that will be used for the fundraiser dinner.)
CLASSIC WALDORF SALAD
Servings: 4, as an appetizer
1 cup diced apples
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mayonnaise
5 leaves escarole or chicory, chopped and stems removed
smoked paprika, for garnish
In a medium bowl, mix apples, celery walnuts and mayonnaise. Arrange chopped lettuce on four plates and top with apple mixture. Sprinkle with paprika to finish.