Forget high-priced art. What I want to see on my walls is Vetri Cucina’s spinach gnocchi. Or at least, a reminder of those forest green orbs of butter-soaked Italian dumplings.
My husband and I have saved paper menus from our most memorable meals from the last decade. Until a few weeks ago, our collection had been underground — in our Center City basement — waiting, like the first ripe strawberry of summer, for its moment in the sun.
Like many people whose homes became more than castles during the pandemic, we invested in home improvement and decor. We revisited our stack of menus. Using inexpensive frames and custom mats from Etsy, we interspersed menus from Fork, The Good King Tavern, and Vetri with family photos and paintings. Like any good millennial, I then shared photos on social media.
Friends commented on those posts and shared photos of their own menu walls — at a scale that put my small offering to shame. Philly’s new home decor trend apparently is framed restaurant menus.
Since last summer, many restaurants have switched from paper menus to electronic ones for safety’s sake. If vacations, celebratory dinners, and physical connections have been off the table for the last year, the framed menus help take us back.
Nicole Paloux’s menu walls are a conversation starter for visitors to her Bella Vista home. “When I see them, I feel completely transported back to the moment of that meal, that occasion, that trip. Very nostalgic. And also hungry.”
Kaitlin and Greg Dalakian, of the food-centric Instagram account @excessiveeaters, invested their 2020 travel budget into two gallery walls that show off 45 menus. Though the couple lives close to New York City, they visit Philly often to eat. “We’ve planned vacations around restaurants that we’ve wanted to try, like Zahav in Philly, Alinea in Chicago, and Noma in Copenhagen,” Kaitlin says. “These menus represent moments in our life.”
Kiki Aranita’s home office in Graduate Hospital features 35 framed menus — often signed by chefs. Many come from collaboration dinners where the chef-friends cook an ephemeral meal together . Her favorites include the ones friend Abbe Stern hand-painted for the Rittenhouse Hotel’s 2016 pop-up dinner, Aubergine; the last tasting menu at WD50; and her fiancé Ari Miller’s first menu from Musi.
Marc Vetri says he’s received “hundreds of emails and photos” over the last two decades from customers who framed the Vetri menu. What most guests don’t realize: The abstract forks dancing around the oversized menu were drawn by the James Beard award-winning chef himself. Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Vetri hand-painted each fork — and wrote out each menu item — for seven years. Technology makes it less labor-intensive today, but each menu still features his swirly forks and all-caps writing. “When the memory is so amazing that they decide to frame it and hang it on the wall, that’s what it’s all about,” he says.
“[A menu] is art that often winds up thrown out, or at least with a red wine ring on it by the end of the night,” says Vicki Rees-Jones, who has designed menus for restaurants and special events. “But, some people want to remember a great first date or a beautiful wedding. The idea of my art being displayed as a tangible memory is incredible.”