On Friday Pullman Rail Journeys made its first stop in Denver at Union Station, bringing three restored vintage passenger cars full of riders from Chicago. But it's not only the cars that are a throwback to the 1940s and 1950s, when trains were a common mode of transportation: The menus speak to the past as well. "It's a traditional menu modified for the modern palate," says Angela Arias, vice president of sales and marketing for the company.
To make the fare as historically accurate as possible, the Illinois Central Railroad, which owns the Pullman trains, hired historian and railroad menu collector David Duncan to oversee the food operation. To come up with the menus for these special trips, Duncan went over his own records and scanned the vast collection of antique menus at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Then he collaborated with chef Mark Guzman, who came to Pullman from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus.
The fare showcased on the train is very different from what he served at that gig; on Pullman Rail Journeys, passengers will enjoy a dinner lineup that includes butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage; roast beef tenderloin with Madeira sauce and buttered mushrooms; Chicken Royale with its bacon sauce, as well potatoes Romanoff and, of course, the vegetable du jour. To start, there's the relish tray with celery, Spanish queen green olives stuffed with pimento and spiced watermelon cubes, a platter dubbed the “signature dish of the Illinois Central Railroad.”
For the other two meals on the Chicago-Denver route, the menu features corned beef hash, a daily omelette, a traditional club sandwich, grilled ham and cheese, and chilled stuffed tomato with your choice of cashew-curry chicken salad or Mediterranean tuna salad. The cars also have a well-stocked bar for evening cocktails, an event made even more refined by the sounds of a live band.
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It's a great and unique way to see the country, especially if you want to tip a hat to how we used to get around. Pullman Rail Journeys plans on making Denver a permanent stop on its list of adventures, a jaunt that starts at $550 each way (purchase tickets on travelpullman.com). With Chicago as home base, the train's primary route is between the Windy City and New Orleans, with Albuquerque and Palm Beach as alternative options as it expands destinations — always hooking the private cars to an Amtrak train.
"There is definitely a space for the type of rail travel we are offering," says Arias. "The journey is as important as the destination." And as long as there is delicious food involved, we are on board with that statement.