What I do: Dr. Harley Hammerman of Lost Tables and Lost Dishes
Dr. Harley Hammerman is the researcher and writer behind the Lost Tables and Lost Dishes websites. The twin sites document St. Louis’ closed but still beloved restaurants and their signature dishes. A radiologist by training, Hammerman first honed his archival skills by collecting documents related to playwright Eugene O’Neill, which he documented on a website he created himself. After deciding to sell his collection in 2016, Hammerman found himself starting a new hobby. He decided to reflect on the history of the Golden Fried Chicken Loaf, a restaurant his family frequented as a child and fondly remembered from chicken. Over 100 articles later, Hammerman shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to find new establishments to research and share.
âWhen I was 50, my kids gave me the eoneill.com domain for my Eugene O’Neill collection. I had this collection in my office and no one could see it. So I decided to put everything online. It started out as a lousy website, and little by little I got better. I wouldn’t just put it there as a laundry list; I was researching different articles and writing about them – it was a pretty robust website.
âI started looking for a house for the [Eugene OâNeill] collection, around this time I started Lost Tables. I sold my collection to the University of Washington and also gave them the website. It had kept me busy for much of my adult life, so I needed something else to keep me occupied since I don’t play golf. So I think it was quite natural to turn my love of restaurants into Lost Tables, as I already had the skills I had learned from the first website.
âDining out has always been important to us. Everyone’s talking about ‘Where did you go in high school?’ Likewise, I think the restaurants are unique to Saint-Louis. People are very serious about their restaurants and restaurant history and dedicate themselves to certain restaurants.
âI’m just starting at the beginning and researching everything I can about the restaurant. Sometimes I build the story around a building, like Busch’s Grove or Lake Forest Bakery; it is about the building, then it tells the story of the guards who lived or worked there.
âOther times it’s a family. As with Pratzel’s Bakery, this is the patriarch who started the business, and then you follow him and his kids and their kids in the bakery, and it’s not necessarily a building because they have moved. in other buildings.
âI also have a collection of menus, most of which are from eBay. I watch every morning to see what’s online. A lot of times I get a menu and say, âOK, I’ll start researching this,â and that leads to an article for Lost Tables. ”
âLost Dishes is an outgrowth of Lost Tables. I was doing Lost Tables and had created a Lost Tables Facebook group to promote the website. In the Facebook group, people were posting, âI would like the recipe for this, I would like the recipe for that. A lot of these recipes were published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Globe-Democrat, so I had access to them.
âWith Lost Tables, I am compulsive that everything is absolutely precise. I’m researching and trying to find a date, and if I can’t find, for example, the date that someone got married, then I say, âIn 1932 they were married. I use ‘by’ a lot. This means I know they were married at the time, but I won’t guess the dates.
âLost Dishes is different. The recipes are correct. But a recipe website isn’t fun without photographs. Well, I don’t have photographs of most of these things. Sometimes I have a photo of the actual printed recipe. I persuaded my wife to make some of the recipes. But for the most part, I look at the recipe and try to figure out what it might have looked like and then search online for pictures that match that. “
âSometimes I’ll even go wrong with the images in Photoshop to make them look what I want them to be. If there’s a lot of parsley in it and there’s no parsley in the recipe, I’ll photoshop the parsley. So while I don’t take any liberties with Lost Tables, I take a lot of liberties with Lost Dishes.
âFor my 70th birthday, my wife surprised me by having a Lost Dishes birthday party. It all started with Crazy Fish Maryland Crab Cakes and Duff’s Spinach and Feta Strudel. They had Balaban’s smoked trout pancake and Portabella’s grilled asparagus and portobello mushrooms, and there was Tenderloin Room’s Pepperloin steak and Cyrano’s Cleopatra. It was one of the most spectacular dinners I have ever had.