On Monday, May 12, Weber’s Restaurant & Boutique Hotel in Ann Arbor, Michigan, celebrated the 100th birthday of founder Herman Weber, with family and restaurant patrons gathering to celebrate the man and the business he created 77 years ago. The afternoon involved a prix-fixe menu that embodies the restaurant’s cuisine through the years, as well as a recollection of memories that surround the restaurant and Herman.
The restaurant today combines the contemporary with classic American cuisine, and is run by Herman’s son Ken, while grandson Michael is vice president of food and beverage for the family business.
Michael’s nod to modern tastes includes Michigan Arugula Salad, sustainable seafood such as Acadian Redfish, and an increase in the preservative-free breads, desserts, and hand-made ice creams made on site. The restaurant is also big into craft beers, and is one of six restaurants serving Wolverine State Brewing Co. Gulo Gulo India Pale Lager on tap.
In addition to the Prime Rib, guests remain loyal to Herman’s classic menu items including Oysters on the Half Shell, roast duck, perch, and lobster.
Looking back over the years, specifically to the 1960s when he first entered the business, Ken Weber recalls an era that closely resembles the television show “Mad Men.”
Two-martini lunches were the norm—with the martinis served on the rocks. “When I was growing up, there were a lot of successful businesses in the area,” Ken says. “The executives would come to the restaurant at 11:30 a.m. and not leave until 2:30 p.m. They would have their cocktails, and sometimes would demand to have a telephone brought to their table. We had to run an extra AT&T line. The executives would sit at the table, drinking Scotch—Dewar’s, Cutty Sark, or Chivas—and stay there all day and conduct their business. They would do that four or five days a week.”
On the prix-fixe menu for Herman’s birthday were iconic menu items from the 1950s through the 1990s such as Roadhouse Style (Fried) Frog’s Legs, Liver and Onions, Scrod Chardonnay, and Hearts of Palm Salad, as well as house favorites that withstood the test of time. Prime Rib of Beef, for example, has been on the dinner menu since the 1950s and remains today a customer favorite. Dinner guests attending the special celebration also received an individual birthday cake for dessert.
Today’s menus, notes Ken, are mostly filled with salmon, steak, and chicken. Ironically, the current hubbub about serving local cuisine was par for the course in the 1950s, he adds.
“When Weber’s first started, using local purveyors was how everyone sourced their food. Herman was a chicken farmer—when he first opened the restaurant, he got all the different ingredients from his farmer neighbors. Everything was made from scratch that day and served. It was the only way to do it—if you wanted to serve pasta salad, you were making it yourself. Over the years, with bigger farms and foodservice companies, restaurants got away from doing it that way.
Food selection has also changed. Food selection was more varied 50 years ago, Ken says, as proteins such as pork shanks, Osso Buco, and sweetbreads were the norm. Today’s restaurant guest, though, has a much more sophisticated beverage palate. “In the 1960s we served mostly domestic wines,” notes Ken. “We used to have only 15 wines on the menu—now we have 250.”
And while some cocktails have come full circle, such as Chartreuse, others haven’t fared as well. “Harvey Wallbanger’s, for example,” says Ken. “You can’t give them away.”
By Joann Whitcher
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