The Dairy Restaurant

Ben Katchor. Schocken, $29.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4219-5
Both narrowly targeted and searchingly broad, this religio-cultural-culinary historical deep dive from Katchor (Cheap Novelties) is ostensibly a study of the “dairy restaurants” that once served New York’s Jewish immigrant community. But Katchor ranges much further afield, often but not always in rewarding tangents. Interleaving dense text blocks with his usual sketchy, angular, but somehow ethereal drawings in gray and white, Katchor starts with the mythology of the Garden of Eden, where the drama of Adam, Eve, God, and the forbidden fruit establishes “the relationship between patron, proprietor, and waiter.” From there, Katchor roams through Torah restrictions on the “proper handling of milk and meat,” to the issues that arise when observant Jews ate with Gentiles, how the pastoral ideal merged with the rise of the restaurant, the “complex culture of milk drinking” and “Milchhallen” (milk- and cheese-focused cafes), and Tevye’s role as Sholem Aleichem’s tragicomic milkman. By the time Katchor gets to his loving accounting of New York’s mostly disappeared dairy restaurants, including original menus, he has nearly lost the threads of community, religion, exile, assimilation, and longing for the tastes of childhood that he so ambitiously tried to tie together. Exhaustive and somewhat exhausting, this graphic history shows again Katchor’s gimlet eye for curious connections and obsessive attention to detail. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/12/2019
Release date: 03/01/2020
Genre: Comics
Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
Discover what to read next