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Relish trays like the ones at olden days supper clubs and steakhouses?

We're grilling steaks for Christmas Eve (in upper midwest this is a bit of a feat because it'll be at most 20F..) Been thinking of relish trays at fancy restaurants we used to go to when we were little. Usually there were pickles (black) olives, carrot sticks, celery sticks and rye krisp crackers and breadsticks in little packages.

The good ones had those things plus things like radishes, scallions, pickled herring, pickled peppers, cheese, salami.
what else? e.g I read that there's a place in Vermont that serves the above with a dip made from cottage cheese and horseradish.

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  1. You have pretty much covered all the bases already. What I remember back in the 60's...it was common to see the following as well on tables.....part of a bread basket, relish tray or separately:

    Melba Toast
    Small Pumpernickel
    Sesame Breadsticks
    Wine Cheese Balls with Ritz Crackers
    Cottage Cheese and Corn Relish
    Chopped Liver
    Creamed Herring
    Gefilte Fish

    2 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      fourunder, you might be part of my family! We also had chopped herring. No popovers, tho.

      At restaurants in RI in the 60s, the relish trays commonly had melba toast, breadsticks, cottage cheese, corn relish (or pepper relish), and Wispride-type cheese spread. And they usually could be spun around.

      1. re: Bob W

        I forgot the three-bean salad!

    2. That sounds so perfect. Wine cheese balls. Funny my husband is making chopped liver (chicken liver pate) right now. It's a tradition. I was born in 1965 so relish trays are a fond but distant memory. I just remembered there was a place with deviled ham.

        1. I did read your thread Beach Chick. It's not crudites!

          1. Oh no no no! Someone said a relish tray was basically "crudites" and I only meant to say that they aren't that. I completely love your relish tray fandom and concur.

            I went back and read too..the poster said "crudos" nonetheless I meant no disrespect to you or them.

            2 Replies
            1. re: cherrylime

              Thanks cherrylime!

              Long live the relish tray..

              1. re: Beach Chick

                Big fan of the relish tray too. I could make a meal from just those selections offered and go home happy.

            2. Dog team in Vermont had a relish wheel. They have since burned down. At the time when they closed it had the following:

              Apple butter
              Pickled white beans
              Pickled beets
              Horseradish cottage cheese
              Corn relish

              My older relatives remember carrots and celery from the old days but they don't know what replaces them.

              4 Replies
              1. re: melpy

                pickled white beans? wow, that is something interesting i've never even heard of. now a-googling i shall go! ;-).

                ps, beach chick, long live the relish tray!

                1. re: alkapal

                  White beans, sliced garlic, sliced onion, oil, vinegar, sugar

                  I have a recipe somewhere.

                  1. re: melpy

                    sounds good. is it a sweet-sour dressing like that for three bean salad?

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Might not have sugar. My recipe is at home an we are with family for the holidays.

              2. My paternal grandmother - who dined out frequently at all the old great restaurants in Manhattan & out on Long Island, ALWAYS served a traditional relish tray when we dined at her apartment.

                Like the OP mentioned - radishes (but in classice "rose" form), California black olives (but JUMBO only), carrot sticks, & celery (pale hearts only). Sometimes she'd jazz it up by using larger celery stalks & stuffing them with blue cheese.

                I could make a whole meal out of that relish tray.

                11 Replies
                1. re: Bacardi1

                  ^^this is my memory of a relish tray also.

                  apple butter and cottage cheese would totally bum me out. :(

                  wonder if the contents are regional then?

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    i was wondering that, too. our relish trays in s.w. florida (i.e., the "south") didn't have any dips or butters or cottage cheese….

                    they typically had plain or stuffed celery, big black olives, stuffed green olives, radishes, carrot sticks, hmm, what else? hearts of palm, gherkins. baby dills. maybe bread-and-butter pickles slices. cherry tomatoes.

                    i think we also put cubed cheese on ours (maybe?). it has been such a long time, and i can't ask my mom anymore. ;-(. later, i do know that hot pickled okra became a welcome addition.

                    usually, if there was a relish tray, there was also a plate of deviled eggs nearby.

                  2. re: Bacardi1

                    I used to take such pride in my elegant radish roses, but I don't think I have made one in almost 40 years.
                    Sometimes I'll make a tray with with nopalitos (cactus strips), palmitos (hearts of palm), and roasted sweet red chilies, with a cup of honey mustard. Together they feature the colors of the Mexican flag, and the flavors work well together.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      i am trying to picture you, veggo, carving your radish roses. how sweet!

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Delicate overlapping petals, then a 2 hour icewater bath to help them bloom. Perhaps not a manly skill, and better left in the past.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          That's alright. As soon as you were finished, I'm sure you went out in the garage and bored the cylinders on your '62 Dodge Polara.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            After I sharpen my chain saw and test it. In my living room, where I keep my Snap-on Tool chest.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              while swigging budwiser and smoking a stogie or havin a chaw

                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                naw, in florida, he'd be swiggin' a busch!

                                pardon, veggo…pardon. ;-).

                    2. re: Bacardi1

                      yep, exactly what grandma served while we were waiting for dinner to be served. no chips or dip. no nuts or pretzels. just good fresh raw vegetables. later on she got fancy and did serve it with a small dish of mayonnaise.

                      1. re: Bacardi1

                        That's the relish tray I remember from my childhood. Some of the fancier relatives put out those tiny whole sweet pickles or, in one case of sheer blatant showing off, watermelon pickles!

                      2. Growing up, we had them at Christmas and Thanksgiving with little sweet gerkins, baby dills, "black" olives and pimento stuffed olives.

                        Last one I had was at my friend's birthday party. A little more unconventional, they fit into the "hipster farmer" category. There were pickled green tomatoes, cucumber pickles and a few other pickled veg. I ate all the pickled green tomatoes when no one was looking.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: adventuresinbaking

                          you ate all the pickled green tomatoes? were they those little ones made for martinis? i bought some for my brother-in-law, and now they are a "must have" in their household.

                          "tomolives." http://www.oldsouth.com

                        2. My memories of relish trays are many. The best were at the Pleasanton Hotel, east of SF. You ate all the good stuff first, and when you got to the carrots and celery they had soaked up a mixture of just melted ice and juice from the olives. Only place I recall that had popovers was the Candlelight restaurant in Manhasset. They were so good that I can't remember any of the other foods there!

                          1 Reply
                          1. Pickled cauliflower, sliced carrots and celery, dill pickle slices, assorted packaged crackers and good ranch dressing to dip it all in at the Oasis in Manhattan MT. Super small town, huge excellent steaks.

                            1 Reply
                            1. 13 Coins in Seattle still serves them--celery and carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, black olives, pepperoncini, and salami, served with bread.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: MsMaryMc

                                anyone happen to know where they serve them in LA ?

                              2. I don't know if there is some regionality to this or if my family just couldn't afford to eat at fancy enough restaurants but I don't remember ever seeing such a relish tray at a restaurant. They were however, always present on our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables and would make sporadic appearances at other big meals during the year, such as when there were visiting relatives or the preacher.

                                Homemade bread n' butter pickles were a must, plus pitted black olives, pimento stuffed green olives and occasionally un-pitted green olives, celery ribs stuffed with either cream cheese or pimento cheese, carrot sticks, gherkins and perhaps halved cherry tomatoes. There might occasionally be pickled onions and beets but I don't ever remember radish roses or scallions on a relish tray.

                                The presence of a relish tray on the table almost always guaranteed the presence of a platter of deviled eggs, too.

                                Around here, you used to regularly get a bowl of pickled vegetables at Mexican restaurants, but you seldom see that anymore.

                                I most recently got a relish plate with my food at a Middle Eastern bakery/restaurant. WIth foul medammes and an egg and meat manakish I got a plate with oil cured olives, thick sliced sour pickles, diced tomatoes, pickled peppers and a pickle that I couldn't identify - about the color of watermelon. Browsing the store later I came across jars of pickled turnips - that's what it was. Best relish tray I've had in years and better than either the foul or the manakish.

                                If I did a relish tray today, it would definitely include pickled turnips.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: brucesw

                                  just had some pickled turnips with our roast chicken and garlic sauce (toum). they are essential to me when i wrap that chicken up in some pita. ;-). the red comes from beets.

                                  your description sounds like our home growing up. and i didn't really see relish trays in the restaurants. (s.w. florida, late '60s - '70s).

                                  bruce, are you from the south, too? (i see you're in houston now. did you grow up there?).

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    Born and raised in a small town along the coast, south of Houston. There were no supper clubs and a 'fancy' meal at a 'steak house' would have meant a barely 1/2" thick T-bone, untrimmed, covering most of the plate, cooked at least medium well, baked potato on the side with unlimited cheese, bacon (real), sour cream and chives.

                                    A schooner or pilsner of Jax, Grand Prize, PBR or Falstaff would have been the crowning touch. Ah, the good life! (The meal I'm describing would have been for adults, when I was just a kid).

                                    My relish plate today for a somewhat authentic Swedish Jul - Pressgurka (marinated cucumbers), bostongurka (pickle relish), deviled eggs with senap grov (Swedish mustard), deviled eggs with herring roe, pickled beets, and Swedish cheeses - Lagrad (farmers), Greveost (similar to Swiss), and Prästost (cheddar like).

                                    1. re: brucesw

                                      We spent a number of months in Dallas when I was 5, and I fondly remember baked potatoes with cheese, bacon, sour cream and chives. I've been thinking lately of resurrecting them.

                                  2. re: brucesw

                                    just had some pickled turnips with our roast chicken and garlic sauce (toum). they are essential to me when i wrap that chicken up in some pita. ;-).

                                    your description sounds like our home growing up. and i didn'r really see relish trays inthe restaurants. (s.w. florida, late '60s - '70s).

                                    1. re: brucesw

                                      I don't remember seeing 'em in restaurants either.

                                      1. re: brucesw

                                        where and what was the name of the mid eastern bakery ?

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          Zeyad. It's in Houston (Richmond @ Dunvale).

                                      2. I just had dinner at Jocko's Steakhouse in Nipomo, CA on 12/22/12 and they still serve a relish tray before every meal. Olives, radishes, pepperoncini, cherry peppers, celery, carrots, crackers. With a Santa Maria BBQ twist, salsa is added in. If you are ever in the area, they have the best grilled steaks ever! Perfectly done, juicy, salty, delicious.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: srr

                                          Besides steaks at Jocko's do they happen to have any seafood, or fish, for my non-meat eating friend ?

                                          Thanks a bunch.

                                          1. re: srr

                                            With a name like Jocko's Steakhouse, it's gotta be great. I bet they serve a mean martini and the mother of all wedge salads.

                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                              Wedge is the only way to go with iceberg. It brings out the taste in a tasteless lettuce. Not being sarcastic. And I just happen to have some to eat

                                          2. Just a theory but I think what was left uneaten (relish tray) was recycled back then. Today there are health codes prohibiting this plus today a restaurant owner would be afraid of an employee squealing on him. So no more relish trays. It used to be that every kosher style deli would put a plate of cucumber and green tomato pickles on the table. Maybe even some slaw or this Jewish thing called health salad.

                                            Kind of a relish tray

                                            1. I posted an answer to this in another category...what would you like to see in restaurants...I would love it if relish trays came back and the bread and butter disappeared. It helps with watching the waistline. Sue I like the bread better but I choose health. Some were small versions of anti pasta. hmmmmmm good. Chinese restaurant on 56th in NYC has a great nut mixture and an even greater pickle mixture.

                                              10 Replies
                                              1. re: eramah

                                                If they replaced my bread with a bunch of veggies, especially in a steakhouse, things would get heated.

                                                1. re: MonMauler

                                                  I was thinking the same thing. if you believe that bread and butter are too unhealthy, then please, just say no--and leave mine alone!

                                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                                    yeah, we don't want bloomberg sticking his nose in.

                                                2. re: eramah

                                                  Maybe they could bring back breadsticks too. The real ones, not those soft things that are just a strip of pizza dough. Probably another health code issue as I think the breadsticks were just refilled over the course of the evening as they were eaten, not brought out for each customer.

                                                  They used to be sitting there on every table, almost like a vase of flowers, but instead it was breadsticks. and of course we were taught only to touch the one we were taking. Not that it stopped people from sneezing at them or whatever. I wonder how many people caught colds from breadsticks?

                                                  And yes, the vegetable platter was called a relish tray, not a tray of crud-ites (how one of my aunties pronounces it)

                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    There is an illness contracted by consuming contaminated breadsticks. It's called panuenza.

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      crud - ites. LOL

                                                      my dad would joke about horse doovers.

                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        I bleeve the Crudites were alien invaders from the planet Cruderious X in the 1956 sci-fi flick, They Came from Cruderious.

                                                    2. I make relish trays for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, as did my mother in the fifties and sixties. Had no idea these were offered in steak houses at the time. I like radishes, pickled broccoli florets, stuffed prunes, cherry tomatoes, good olives, and maybe dates. I found a new pickled love this year--pickled green beans which I find here in the PNW, but never encountered in the midwest. I adore them. I added those to the Christmas dinner table. I also put green onions and celery sticks in an antique celery dish I've owned for a decade or two. I do like fresh organic celery and Mr. Sueatmo likes green onions.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                                        Our family did the same for Thanksgiving and Christmas- usually black and green olives, sweet pickled vegetable mix and dill pickles. Sometimes pickled beets. Always served in crystal dishes.

                                                        1. re: salsailsa

                                                          Yes! Special crystal trays. I have a couple and I use them. So pretty on the table.

                                                        2. re: sueatmo

                                                          Your relish tray sounds divine! I'm surprised though that you never encountered pickled green beans in the midwest. In the Twin Cities, I've seen the Lehmann Farms brand around for at least two decades. They come in jars and in two types. One is your basic Dill-Bean-O and the other is the Jala-Bean-O. The spicy ones are soooo good in a Bloody Mary.

                                                          In the 70's, my long ago boyfriend's mother would make dilly beans fresh from the garden in the summer. Wish I had her recipe today.

                                                          1. re: justalex

                                                            I never saw them in St. Louis. I'm not saying they weren't there though. The beans I find here are pickled in extremely large jars, and they are processed in Washington State. I really like them

                                                        3. After this discussion and the recent olive and pickle forks I got for Christmas, I served a little antipasto/pickle tray at NYE party:

                                                          Pickled pepperdews and stuffed olives from the grocer, mozz balls with EVOO and red pepper flaked, and homemade marinated crimini mushrooms. Whole place was devoured!

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: melpy

                                                            Those are good groceries - small wonder they disappeared!

                                                            1. re: melpy

                                                              Oooh! Mozarella balls with EVOO and basil. I like, although would think of this more for summer. But good idea. I love those sweet little cheese balls.

                                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                                No basil due to the season. The red pepper flakes made a nice color contrast for the white. Very christmasy. The yellow pepperdews and green olives also spruced up the plate well.

                                                            2. Vegas Diner in Brooklyn (Bensonhurst, 18th Ave and 86st Street) still does a great relish tray. Celery and carrot sticks, pickled beets, coleslaw and (I think) chickpeas. and of course bread sticks in the wrapper.

                                                              They have the typical diner ambiance and menu--multi-pages, and everything is really, really good. Anytime I go back to visit the family, we usually end up eating there at least once.

                                                              1. We made frequest visit to northern Wisconsin to visit my grandparents when I was young. Saturday night was almost always spent at one of the many supper clubs in the area. The relish trays were a highlight; between the bread basket and the relish tray, I dont think my younger sibling ever ordered an actual meal. I LOVED the breadsticks! I used to pretend they were cigars.

                                                                The one thing I remember distinctly that I dont think has yet been mentioned are crabapples. I remember them being both whole with stem and pit intact, and sliced with the pit removed. I used to put a smaller one in my Shirley Temple [ALWAYS a double!] and pretend that it was a martini olive.

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: Fydeaux

                                                                  I don't recall fresh crabapples on a relish tray, but I do remember spiced ones making an appearance sometimes.

                                                                  1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                    Relish trays are still to be found in the smaller supperclubs of rural Wisconsin. But the spiced crabapples seem to be a thing of the past.

                                                                    And I drank a Roy Rogers, while my sister was served a Shirley Temple.

                                                                    1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                      yeah, it's the spiced ones I'm talking about.

                                                                      1. re: Fydeaux

                                                                        i haven't seen spiced crabapples in a long while. now i have to check the grocery to see if they're still there.

                                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                                          I haven't seen them in a dog's age either, but I haven't really looked.

                                                                          My mom used to buy them sometimes to garnish/surround roast poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) on a platter.

                                                                          1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                            as i recall, they were rather strongly spiced.

                                                                  2. I remember Bean Dip, too, made with kidney beans.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: pinehurst

                                                                      the recipe for this -- did you just post it on the canned beans thread? that was interesting, because i'd never seen it before.

                                                                    2. We have a restaurant in Portland that still serves relish trays automatically. It's called Sayler's Old Country Kitchen and it is a steak house. Their relish trays come with celery, carrot, black olives, dill pickle spears and baby corn. It also comes with a special sour cream dipping sauce. You also get a warm bread basket with both plain butter pats and a melted garlic butter. You also get a salad and ice cream included with the meal. They also have to die for onion rings that you dip in the sour cream mixture (but you do have to pay for those). They have been serving these things since 1946, which my FIL started going to and has become a family tradition. They also have a 72 oz. steak challenge!


                                                                      1. After reading all this, I'm going to dig out my relish dishes and start serving this again!

                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: sheiladeedee

                                                                          It's a good thread, is it not? I think I could make a meal out of some of these relish plates.

                                                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                            ...not if I get there first. Little nibbly things, sigh. I love to graze through a lovely variety of savories.

                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                              This may be the problem, cuts down on appetizer sales. Seems like peeps don't eat as much as they used to, so why are we fatter?

                                                                              1. re: mwhitmore

                                                                                I'm not significantly fatter than I've ever been, though I maintain that metabolisms are wasted on the young.

                                                                                Back to relish trays, I would much rather have a meal of light, savory nibbles than a plate filled with heavier fare, but that's my preference, such grazing is easier on my tum and palate. The last time I saw an old-fashioned relish tray, as opposed to an appetizer menu, was in a Mennonite community restaurant. SO loved their pickled ham chunks, of course, and their breads and veg options were wonderful, I passed on ordering a *meal* after all that and was very happy.

                                                                                <edited as I felt it had strayed from the OP's theme>

                                                                          2. At Morton's they used to serve chopped chicken liver too! And don't forget radishes. And re: the Cottage cheese, there's a place in Occidenal, CA., where the totally fancified relish tray includes house-made Cottage cheese that's large-curd and creamy and totally worth the trip. But they never EVER sell it to go, waaaaaaah me.
                                                                            Ooh, what about some pickled cocktail onions?

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: mamachef

                                                                              I love the cocktail onions--in a Gibson or out. Unfortunately, the Khantessa loathes them, so they won't make my relish tray. ):

                                                                              1. re: mamachef

                                                                                What place is it that has the cottage cheese? Is it Union Hotel?

                                                                                1. re: srr

                                                                                  No, Negri's. Sounds like you know the town!! When all the Hotels were serving identical meals, they all made it, and it was variable in total deliciousness, but Negri's (bless their hearts) still serves the old-style dinners, and never quit making it, and like I said.....sooo goooooood, especially with a bowl of that Minestrone!!

                                                                              2. You can buy the horseradish seasoning they use in a dry packet and add it to cottage cheese. I recommend Hood or Cabot brand cottage cheese. Whole milk regular (not low fat) for it to taste right. They would also serve ruffled potato chips in the bar with the cottage cheese for dipping. The Vermont's Own store in Middlebury carries it. Not listed on their website but you can probably call and get it.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. Oh the relish tray

                                                                                  For dinner at home it was more or less as described, radishes and celery, olives (green, pimento stuffed), baby dill pickles, pickled beets.

                                                                                  We used to go to a steakhouse in Lewiston, NY (near Niagara Falls) and they always brought out a snack tray at the start of the meal.

                                                                                  Three bowls, one of bean dip, one with pepperoncini peppers and one of sour cream dip. Three rectanguar sections beside, one full of corn chips, one of ripple potato chips and the third had an assortment of packets of crackers. It closed sometime in the early 2000s, man I miss that place.

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: bytepusher

                                                                                    Why is this so quaint and appealing? Nostalgia, I spose.

                                                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                      This just shot me straight back to the late 70s, when I was a very little girl. We spent weeks each summer at the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas (remember those old garden rooms? Those were where we stayed. Many days, after swimming in that gorgeous pool for hours, my mom would order a relish tray from room service so we'd have something to munch on before dinner. The tray always had carrot sticks (this was before baby carrots hit the market), celery sticks, radishes, black olives, melbabtoast rounds and maybe cherry tomatoes. I don't recall everything. But it always came beautifully laid out around a mond of pimiento cream cheese. I would NEVER eat that kibd of cream cheese except if it was on those relish trays. They were so good.

                                                                                      I still serve relish trays whenever I have a party and they are always gobbled up. Only I serve hummus rather than cream cheese. Mmmm....

                                                                                      1. re: Miri1

                                                                                        And those vintage Vegas hotels are going the way of the relish trays, are they not? What I wouldn't give to be able to hang out at the Dunes, drink a few well made martinis, nibble on a fine relish tray and watch a little Julie London on stage.

                                                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                          are any of those casinsos that serve that stuff still around in Vegas ?

                                                                                          please pray tell here or provide a link to the vegas board.

                                                                                          thanks. i could sure use one of those hotels next time i'm in LV.

                                                                                          1. re: kevin

                                                                                            The Golden Nugget might be a good bet.

                                                                                  2. My question is why are there still the traditional relish trays at restaurants in Northern California, but almost extinct in SoCal. Also, a staple on our relish trays for whatever occasion, along with cream cheese in the celery, was celery stuffed w/peanut butter, either smooth or crunchy, which I haven't seen mentioned at all. Outstanding.

                                                                                    1. I understand from reading some of the posts that the relish trays are making something of a comeback. I think that they went the way of the lavish "happy hour" buffets that restaurants used to put out in the '70's & early '80's - all you could eat shrimp, etc. Guess it got too expensive at the time, but now with the economy hurting, those same restaurants are trying to bring in the customers. A bit of trivia: back in the early 1900's, there used to be "Blue Plate Specials" of finger food in bars, where the food was "free" as long as you were buying drinks.

                                                                                      1. I remember when relish trays were common in "fancy" restaurants. There were always little packages of crackers, olives, carrots, celery, and sometimes pepperoncini. One place had cheddar spread and little garlic toasts - loved that.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: sandylc

                                                                                          Sardi's has a pot of cheese and ritz crackers in the bar area.

                                                                                          1. re: melpy

                                                                                            Only the most snobbish food snob can consistently turn that down! It's the kind of thing that sits and stares at you until you finally break down and have one. Then all bets are off!