Why Dr. Harley Hammerman is keeping St. Louis’ restaurant history alive


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

St. Louis is a town of passions. Sports, the arts, culture, beer, our history, and of course, our restaurants. For a city our size, to have as many media entities covering the food scene as we have shows how interconnected we are when it comes to where we dine. And that passion for our restaurants doesn’t stop with what’s new or our current favorites. The interest in the past is just as strong, thanks to Dr. Harley Hammerman and his website Lost Tables and its companion site Lost Dishes.

Lost Tables

“Restaurants hold a special place in our lives. Some we remember for their atmosphere, others for their food and some for who we dined with,” writes Hammerman, on his homepage at Losttables.com. “We’ve lost many of the St. Louis restaurants once special to us. Lost Tables archives the culinary memories of those eating places – from their first course to their last.

“I do think St. Louisans like to talk about the lost restaurants they remember eating at in the same way they talk about where they went to high school,” added Hammerman.

Who is Harley Hammerman

Hammerman, a radiologist by training, grew up in University City with his parents and three siblings. He says his early experiences at restaurants helped develop his appreciation not only for the food but the history of what he experienced as he grew up.

“My earliest memory eating out was at Golden Fried Chicken Loaf on Delmar, west of DeBaliviere. My mother and grandmother would take my siblings and me there for dinner on Friday evenings when my father worked late,” Hammerman recalls. “I’d also go with my father to pick up dinner from GFCL on Sundays.”

The fried chicken at Golden Fried Chicken Loaf became the stuff of legends and remains wedged solidly in Hammerman’s memory.

“The crust was crisp, with a peppery spice, and the chicken was hot and moist,” he says. “The chicken dumpling soup was also special. I’d order a bowl at the restaurant, and we’d also take it home in one-gallon glass jars on Sundays.”

Another of Hammerman’s favorites was Ruggeri’s on The Hill.

“Our waiter was usually Mickey Garagiola,” remembers Hammerman. “Ruggeri’s gave out certificates for a free dinner on birthdays. Everyone in my family signed up, but I used them all with my wife on weekend dates before we were married. Mickey would come to our table and ask, “Is it your birthday again, Harley?”

More favorites

In addition to GFCL and Ruggeri’s, other St. Louis restaurants that carved out space in his gastronomical memory include the tearoom at Famous-Barr in Clayton, Hamburger Heaven in University City and Cyrano’s on Clayton Road at DeMun.

“When my wife and I were dating, we’d go there, usually after a movie. We’d get their roast beef sandwiches and a Cleopatra – an ice cream sundae, with bananas, whole strawberries, rum sauce, a hard chocolate shell, and a mountain of whipped cream,” says Hammerman.

“We often went to Casa Gallardo with our children. They were a captive audience. We’d talk about school and friends, while they ate chips with salsa. We also went regularly to Redel’s on DeBaliviere with our children. Our usuals were their veggie salad, veggie pizza, and fried chicken.”

The start of Lost Tables

Golden Fried Chicken Loaf is the impetus for Lost Tables. Hammerman started researching the restaurant, and even purchased the domain name “goldenfriedchickenloaf.com” and began putting his research online. Soon, he expanded that project into what is now Lost Tables.

“I do most of my research online – in the newspaper archives, on ancestry, etc. I also interview primary sources when I can, including Adalaide Balaban (Balaban’s), Ray and Ann Gallardo (Casa Gallardo), Barbara Suberi (Bobby’s Creole), Larry Shriber and Alan Londe (Hamburger Heaven), Zoe Robinson (Café Zoe) and Donna Hafer (Mother-In-Law House),” says Hammerman.

Hammerman spends countless hours in his study doing the research, before putting it together for the online articles, with photographs and scanned menus. He has a large collection of original menus from St. Louis restaurants, which he finds mostly on eBay.

“I love that I’m preserving the history of these lost restaurants and that people really care about it. I find particularly gratifying the emails I get from family members who thank me for providing history and photographs about their parent’s or grandparent’s restaurant they knew little or nothing about,” says Hammerman.

The lost Lake Forest recipes

One story stands out for Hammerman, involving much beloved recipes that were almost lost to the trash heap of history, literally.

In 2012, he read an article in the Post-Dispatch about Chris Leuther, a St. Louis baker who had found the original recipe cards from the Lake Forest Pastry Shop in a dumpster behind the bakery when it closed. He messaged him on Facebook on Feb. 16, 2019 and asked if he could speak with him. No reply.

“On April 21, 2021, he messaged me his phone number and told me to call him,” says Hammerman. “I visited him at the bakery he was then working at, and he gave me the recipe cards – decaying in tattered binders — to scan and post on the Lost Tables website. These would have been lost forever, and now they’ve been preserved.”

Public service

Not long after launching his website, Hammerman created the Lost Tables Facebook group to share his stories. The group has become a public service in its own right, where over 10,000 members discuss not only Hammerman’s stories, but share random memories and ask questions of others. Basically, it’s a place to kibbitz about all the great places that have come and gone.

“The public response has been amazing and unexpected. I get FB messages and emails from strangers all the time, thanking me for the website,” says Hammerman. “Strangers stop me in restaurants to thank me. My friends are constantly talking about the website articles or the Facebook groups. It’s nice to know people are reading and enjoying the articles I spend so many hours researching and writing.”