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In the mid-1970s, eating in a company cafeteria in Cincinnati, I saw they had all the fixin’s, so I asked for a Beef Manhattan. Nobody in the place, food worker or other worker, had ever heard of it, so I explained that you plopped down a slice of whitebread, added a slice or two of roast beef, piled on a scoop of mashed taters, and then covered everything with brown cornstarch gravy.
In northwest Ohio, restaurants and even school cafeterias all had Beef Manhattans, with some variations.
I’ve related this story ever the years, and apparently there is a VERY small population that’s ever heard of a Beef Manhattan. Someone thought it might have originated at Balyeat’s (pronounced Bally-utts), a restaurant in downtown Van Wert that was around even before the Lincoln Highway was established. Their billboards claimed that they were famous from coast to coast since the 1930s. (More than once, people told me of ordering a manhattan in a bar, have it arrive with a piece of parsley, which they were told was Central Park.)
I related this story in Ottawa, Ohio in the 1990s, and was told that when a bunch of workers were transplanted there from Seneca Falls, New York, they would go into mom-and-pop burger joints, and ask the waitress for a quickie. That, supposedly meant a burger basket drizzled with brown gravy.
I wonder how often a menu item “escapes” from the original restaurant and is widely adopted in a small area, but never spreads any further. Another example would be three-way (“Greek”) chili sold by everybody and his brother in Cincinnati, although Skyline ha opened stores in Florida, and Steak ‘n Shake, a multi-state chain offers it. Bratwurst has escaped Cincinnati, but mettwurst hasn’t,and cheese steaks, made at Pats from cheese food rather than cheese, and wafer-thin beef rather than steaks, has escaped Philadelphia.
This is also discussed here: http://www.waywordradio.org/discussion/topics/turkey-manhattans-1/. There is another thread link in this referenced thread.