So maybe I’m dating myself here but those of you out there in my age bracket will know what I’m talking about. My age bracket? Well let’s just say I watched “Bonanza” on Sunday nights on NBC and they weren’t reruns.
I’m harking back to the glory days of classic dining at some of the finest restaurants of the day. They were destination supper clubs with cloth napkins, waiters in tuxedos and valet parking. But being a punk doofus hipster back in the day, these places weren’t always affordable, so they became special occasion restaurants.
Prom, graduation, birthdays or your six month anniversary with your girlfriend during junior year of high school. Other than those special events, dining out back in the sixties and seventies meant a stop at the Burger King or a pizza joint before going to the movies.
The days of filling up your old car and buying a pack of cigarettes for six bucks are long gone and sadly, so are these fine dining rooms.
In 1922 the Stouffer family opened a lunch counter on East Ninth St. in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. They sold sandwiches, dairy products and Lena Stouffer’s soon-to-be-famous deep-dish Dutch apple pie. By 1935 they expanded to six restaurants in the Cleveland area and in 1937 they opened the first Stouffer restaurant in New York City.
In 1946 Stouffer’s opened on Shaker Square and at the Westgate shopping center in the Cleveland suburbs. It was at the Shaker Square location that patrons began requesting takeout orders of items on the menu and the Stouffer foray in to frozen food began by 1954. By this time Stouffer’s had restaurants in Florida, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit.
They continued to expand, building a frozen food processing plant in Solon, Ohio in 1968 and they ventured into specialty casual dining eateries with names like Rusty Scupper, Cheese Cellar and the Grog Shop. In 1969 NASA chose Stouffer’s products for Apollo 11, 12 and 14 for astronauts to dine on.
But it was the Stouffer’s “Top of the…” restaurants that became the special occasion places to go. “Top of The Hub” in Boston, “Top of the Rock” in downtown Chicago, “Top of the Sixes” in New York City, “Top of the Flame” in Detroit and my beloved “Top of the Town” in Cleveland.
Steaks, chops, fresh seafood and panoramic views of downtown cityscapes atop some of the tallest buildings in the city. We dressed up for these elegant evenings out and languished at candle-lit tables dressed in fine linens pretending to be big shots long into the night.
In 1973, the three divisions of Stouffer Corporations were sold to mega-conglomerate Nestle and the restaurants slowly faded away. Every time I eat a Nestle Crunch a tear comes to my eye and I think of “Top of the Town”
Today, all that is left is Stouffer’s Premium-Quality frozen food entrees. There is a whole wagon load full of Stouffers frozen entrees and side dishes out there and most are very good, but it’s not the same.
So next time you and your honey want to relive the Stouffer’s “Top of the Rock” experience, you may just have to throw a tablecloth on the patio furniture, light some candles and pretend you are gazing out over Lake Michigan.
“I’ll have the Stouffer’s Lasagna with an appetizer of French Bread Pizza and my wife will have the Stuffed Peppers with a side of Macaroni & Cheese.”
Fine dining. May it rest in peace.