Vintage Menu From Freetown’s Assonet Inn Shows 1940s Food Prices
Prices are on the rise at restaurants these days, but a vintage menu from the early days of the Assonet Inn in Freetown’s Assonet Village reminds us of a simpler time when the most expensive meal would run you about a buck and a half.
The menu was posted in a Freetown Facebook group by Robbie Cissney, who told us his cousin and some partners purchased the Assonet Inn, and that’s where he found this classic menu.
One commenter pegged the time period for the menu as 1936, but in a 2010 article, Herald News writer Deborah Allard Dion reported that “when Earl Hadley bought the Maj. John Deane’s summer house at 16 Water St. in Assonet Village in the 1940s, he didn’t change the house much to create the Assonet Inn,” meaning it was likely from sometime in that decade.
The menu advertises “Dine and Dance,” “Banquets” and “Private Parties.” If you wanted to book one, all you had to do was “Tel. 88.” Back in those days, there were so few telephones in the small towns of the SouthCoast that two digits were all you needed. Fun fact: the White House had a phone number of “1,” but the first presidential phone call was actually made by Rutherford B. Hayes at Rocky Point in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Anyway, let’s take a step back in time and head out for dinner at the Assonet Inn circa the 1940s.
Want to start with an appetizer? Well, you can choose from a clam cocktail (25 cents), oyster cocktail (30 cents), crabmeat cocktail (35 cents) or lobster cocktail (40 cents), among other items. Why not get really fancy and have some imported caviar (40 cents)? It’s also interesting to note that tomato juice was considered an “appetizer” in those days, running you 15 cents, and that olives and celery seemed to be a very popular appetizer option as well.
Maybe you’re in the mood for some Welsh rarebit (40 cents) tonight? Or perhaps upgrading it to a Golden Buck for just 10 cents more? Modern diners might not be familiar with these dishes, but Welsh rarebit is really just hot cheese sauce poured over toast, and a Golden Buck is the same item but with an over-easy or poached egg added onto the toast.
How about a nice sirloin steak for 90 cents? If you want to splurge, you can get a filet mignon for $1.00.
Me, I’m in the mood for seafood. I can’t decide between a broiled or cold boiled lobster ($1.00), lobster Newburg ($1.00) or lobster Thermidor ($1.50). By comparison, lobster Thermidor in 2022 will run you $39 at The Black Whale in New Bedford, according to its online menu.
Should I spend the extra 20 cents to get some clam chowder with that?
Of course, if we’re really hungry, we should just order one of the full dinners, such as the sirloin steak dinner ($1.25), which includes tomato juice or fruit cocktail, olives, celery, soup, sirloin steak, potatoes, vegetable, salad, dessert, and coffee or tea.
How about a full turkey dinner for $1.50? You can start with a fruit cup or tomato juice, olives, celery, soup, roast Vermont turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, and coffee or tea.
I think I’ll change my lobster order to the full shore dinner ($1.50) with clam cocktail, olives, celery, clam chowder, steamed clams, whole broiled lobster, butter sauce, potatoes, vegetables, dessert and coffee or tea. I might also pay 15 cents to get a bottle of beer to go with that.
Let’s just peg this as being a menu from the middle of the decade, in 1945. If that was the case, the federal minimum wage at the time was 40 cents per hour, meaning an average day’s pay for an eight-hour day was $3.20. Two full dinners (assuming we had the full dinners, that is) would run about $3.00, plus tip, so a trip to the Assonet Inn for a nice night out likely would have cost us an entire day’s pay.
Thinking about it in those terms, it’s not too far off from a meal like that would cost these days, is it?