This is an encyclopedic book, history as told through old newspapers and telephone books and scraps of detail found in letters and memoirs ... This dense cultural and culinary history is reason enough to come to The Dairy Restaurant. But Katchor...has a sharp mind and a sly sense of humor. His words and his charcoal-palette drawings have a combinatory intelligence ... Many of the best moments in this book are stray gleanings ...This is a forlorn book, somehow. You wish it came with a good mixed bread basket, for mopping up the lonely broth.
... isn’t a typical graphic novel, though there is art. Instead it’s a fascinating hybrid format, part history/philosophy/rumination, part graphic imagery ... There’s an immense amount of reading and research crammed into these pages, all served up in an easily digested format ... After reading Katchor, Aleichem’s stories glow with a unique depth and meaning. What seemed like mere folklore take on greater significance ... lovingly chronicles and restores a vanishing cultural fixture for us. This time, though, he’s added a thick lawyer of scholarship and though-provoking musings. He has served up a very satisfying dish here.
An encyclopedic elegy to a way of eating and living, it is mournful, exhaustive, and deadpan funny in roughly equal measure. It is also unlike any book I have ever read ... For long stretches his book is a kind of literary tomb, for as Ratner’s and Schimmel’s are replaced by Starbucks and Shake Shack, an entire culture dies with them ... by celebrating this vanishing industry Katchor amply illustrates what we lose when we give in to monoculture ... Ben Katchor has devoted much of his career to evoking an imagined world of strangely specific and archaic businesses and characters. By combing through expired phonebooks, languishing archives, and recording oral histories with aged survivors to assemble this unique book he has crafted a monument to an institution his longtime readers couldn’t be blamed for thinking he could have invented. It is a kind of backstory to the comic strips he’s best known for. I can see Julius Knipfl eating kugel in the window of one of these long-gone diners clear as day.
... Katchor has once again done right by the creative tension between word and image in his absorbing, sly, and occasionally maddening new book on the history of the dairy restaurant, a former fixture of the American Jewish urban landscape ... As much a visual experience as a textual one, The Dairy Restaurant is not a traditional narrative, not by a long shot. Drawn with the artist’s distinctive hand and affinity for gray wash, images of exterior signs and interior seating arrangements, of people, cows, and plates of food inhabit nearly every page, vividly recounting the story of the dairy restaurant’s evolution over time and space ... Contemporary readers of The Dairy Restaurant may no longer be familiar with baskets of onion rolls set atop a stainless-steel counter, or, for that matter, with protose steak, but, in their current hungering for the kind of community this humble eatery once provided, they’re apt to recognize themselves.
...monumental ... The Dairy Restaurant...has the quality of an illuminated Haggadah (itself a sort of menu). Because Katchor is a wonderful cartoonist, his book can be looked at as well as read. In that sense it is a chronicle of Katchor’s distinctively blocky yet delicate characters, drawn from the Hebrew Bible as well as history, wending their stolidly weathered, gray-washed way from the Euphrates valley through the Negev desert...to Middle Europe and finally New York City’s Lower East Side ... The Dairy Restaurant is a trove of fun facts ... haunted by a sense of the vanished and ephemeral ... The visualization of these ghostly eating places—their storefronts and signageeven more than their interiors—may be The Dairy Restaurant’s meat, as it were. Katchor, however, is far more than a simple lox-and-bagel Jew.
... longtime Katchor devotees will be startled at the balance of text-and-art, so much in favor of his prose that this book might be described as 'self-illustrated.' His art is less dense, reflective, and ironic than in earlier works, but that is not much to say in a Katchor creation because the complexity never leaves our eye. Indeed, this author is arguably the most thoughtful or depth-seeking in the whole field of comic art, at least in the English language ... His art, then, is most unusual but suited to the text of the dairy restaurant and its menu ... Stories of individual owners, who represent family these businesses’ struggles to survive, are most touching ... For readers who glimpsed it themselves, Katchor’s reflections are a cause to remember the talkative waiters, lingering ambiance, and almost indigestibly thick sandwich meat—always to be washed down with celery-tonic soda—of Yiddishkayt ... Overall, The Dairy Restaurant is best served small and repeated servings.
... above all else, a dauntingly complete history of restaurants that served various kinds of Eastern European milchig cuisine to generations of mostly Ashkenazi Jews ... even the voluptuousness of the cuisine that Katchor celebrates so sincerely in The Dairy Restaurant — thick yogurt, fresh cream, butter by the metric ton — can look deceptively austere and plain, its dense and complex minimalism uncannily well suited to the monochromatic washes and blocky shapes that mark Katchor’s style of drawing ... If you are trying to cut down on your consumption of nostalgia, The Dairy Restaurant is not for you. Yet there will be eating of knishes in dark times too, and one could do worse than to remember just what brought figures like Mostel and Harry Belafonte together at Steinberg’s ... When Katchor is telling stories like these, there is precious little to distinguish his melancholy yiddishkeit from his historical method ... does much more than simply revisit the Jewish landscapes of New York that provided Katchor with so much of the material for his terrific early works. If the figure of Julius Knipl captures the restless urban sensibility of the classic flâneur in midcentury Jewish drag — a Borscht-Belt Baudelaire on the prowl for gefilte fish, not prostitutes — The Dairy Restaurant operates on a far vaster scale, one that evokes a different side of the work of Walter Benjamin ... there’s clearly more than one way to mourn, and Katchor has rendered his experience of loss into a monument, worthy of its sweep and scale for all its humble themes.
Dense with historical information and illustrated with Katchor’s signature line-and-ink wash drawings, the book may tell you far more than you thought you wanted to know about its subject. But the text and artwork complement each other for a tasty and heavy meal ... Katchor’s lines feel casual, his washes creating a soft depth ... the unassuming visual observations here create a gentle tension between the sometimes dry historical content and the playful yet off-kilter images. This perfectly suits work that can come off like an anxiety dream that pops up in the middle of a history course ... Thoroughly researched ... the author doesn’t wallow in nostalgia, and sometimes has a wry sense of humor about it ... endearing.
Although profusely illustrated with ink-washed line drawings, The Dairy Restaurant is a 'real' — that is to say, typeset — book, exhaustively researched and authoritatively well-written, not a comic strip ... this story must be illustrated since it can’t be tasted ... Throughout, therefore, image and text are brought together in a variety of intentional, very meaningful ways ... In The Dairy Restaurant, the chronicler is the author himself, who has compiled a testament worthy of its savory history.
... a love letter to a vanished culinary world ... To write such a book – and to read it – demands sitzfleisch, literally, sitting-flesh ... quickly reveals itself as a roaming, curious study of many things: religion, diet, cooking, dining, socializing and philosophizing ... One great pleasure of this section is that Katchor reproduces some menus; another is that he documents not only restaurants but the lives of restaurateurs, waiters, cooks and regulars, as well as a few luminaries.
... ambitious ... This personal history, while just one aspect of The Dairy Restaurant, is the most straightforward and moving. Katchor would have done well to build the structure of the book around his reminisces. Instead, he relegates them to the end, focusing, for the most part, on an unwieldy history of Jews (as recorded in the Bible) with a special interest in what was eaten, and where ... Although there’s a drawing on pretty much every page, this is a text-heavy history, nearly five hundred pages, dense and often going in many different directions at once ... a long sort of ramble, with only a little help from section headers here and there...Readers will be glad for these breaks ... Katchor’s book is a reminder that while our memories can sustain us for a lifetime, the places that nourish us are fleeting.
Both narrowly targeted and searchingly broad, this religio-cultural-culinary historical deep dive from Katchor...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 ... 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.