From the late 1800s through the 1950s, travelers were introduced to the culinary and cultural joys of the West by Fred Harvey, the founding father of the American hospitality industry and gastronomic culture. His revolutionary family business—running restaurants and hotels between Chicago and California along the Santa Fe railroad and later Route 66, including the historic inns still in use at the Grand Canyon and in Santa Fe—changed the way we eat, drink, travel, even the way we see our country.
Stephen Fried, author of Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the West—One Meal at a Time (named one of the top ten books of the 2010 by the
Wall Street Journal and just out in paperback), offers a “Tour de Fred” of the remaining, and still wonderful, Harvey Houses.
Santa Fe, NM—La Fonda Hotel
In Santa Fe, the Fred Harvey hotel on the plaza, La Fonda, has been a center of life since the mid-1920s—and became legendary in the 1940s as the watering hole for the physicists from the Manhattan Project. Inventive chef Lane Warner offers a NewMex cuisine at La Plazuela restaurant
that the hotel’s founding Harvey chef, Konrad Allgaier—who originally cooked for Kaiser Wilhelm—would appreciate. Don’t miss the huevos rancheros with red and green chile and posole for breakfast, or the tamal de la Fonda (pumpkin seed masa tamales stuffed with chicken, chanterelle mushrooms, and caramelized shallots with poblano leek cream and smoked tomato concassé) at dinner.
Winslow, AZ – La Posada Hotel
Built in 1930, La Posada is the last of the great trackside hotels where you can still experience what made Harvey service so beloved. You literally walk off the train—or pull off one of the remaining sections of Route 66—and into the lobby of the boho-luxe hotel with a four-star restaurant. A Los Angeles couple, Allen Affeldt and Tina Mion, saved La Posada, reclaiming and reviving Mary Colter’s original public spaces and rooms (named for famous guests, including Charles Lindbergh, Harry Truman, and Albert Einstein). La Posada’s restaurant, The Turquoise Room
, is run by owner-chef John Sharpe, a transplanted Brit who embodies the original Harvey ideals of authentic and inventive American and Native regional cuisines using local ingredients. His menu of modern Southwestern classics includes Harvey-inspired recipes like boneless fried chicken castaneda with mashed peas and apple–nutmeg pie. While his breakfasts are particularly wonderful, including the Arizona green chile eggs (with creamy polenta, tomatillo sauce and roasted corn salsa), he’s best known for his signature paired potage, cream of corn and black bean soup side-by-side in the same bowl.
Grand Canyon South Rim
After the Santa Fe railroad built a branch line to the Grand Canyon in 1901 and a luxury hotel, El Tovar
, that Fred Harvey’s son Ford ran there starting in 1905, tourism in the West was never the same. You can still take the same train, the restored Grand Canyon Railway
, from Williams, Arizona, to the rim, but however you get there, plan far enough ahead to get a hotel room at the canyon to see God’s greatest light show at all hours of the day or night. Even if you can’t stay there, make sure you eat at the El Tovar Dining Room
, which has many tables overlooking the canyon. Chef Matt McTigue serves a diverse array of Southwestern, Americana, and Continental fare, and has recently added some “new” Harvey-heritage dishes the original chefs made there, like all-natural beef stroganoff and mushrooms over local egg noodles (Harvey chefs were among the first to champion the idea of classic hearty dishes with high-end cuts of meat and local ingredients), Trout Amandine, Eggs Benedict, and even a rueben sandwich (which wasn’t invented by Harvey chefs—it was created in Omaha—but was one of many dishes that was introduced to most Americans during their travels to Harvey Houses.)
Other Harvey locations worth tasting:
Kansas City Union Station
The original headquarters of the Fred Harvey company, which once ran not only all its eateries but all its retail stores as well. Last vestige of Harvey-style dining is the excellent steak and seafood house, Pierponts,
which is located in the space that was once the Harvey ladies lounge.
Los Angeles Union Station
The big news for historic preservation buffs and Harvey fans is that the original Fred Harvey restaurant space in LA Union Station
—still in mint condition from Mary Colter’s original design in 1939, including a floor that looks like a football-field-sized Navajo Rug made of linoleum—might actually become an eatery again. (It has, for decades, been used as a set for movies and music videos, and for weddings and parties.) Until then, try the Traxx
restaurant in the main station, which has an old-fashioned Harvey House feel.
The Harvey House building
in this tiny town (once a bustling railroad stop, now best known for Little Sahara State Park
and its extreme dune-buggying) has been completely restored and has one of the best Harvey history museums in the nation. In the old restaurant space is now a terrific local Mexican restaurant, El Charro, but they don’t serve breakfast—everyone’s favorite Harvey meal. For that, head down the road to the local diner, Miller’s Cafe
, where they bake transplendant cinnamon rolls every morning.