Happy March! This month marks the 75th anniversary of the inception of the streamlined California Zephyr passenger train. To celebrate, we decided to feature recipes served onboard during this famous train’s heyday: Colorado Mountain Trout Zephyr Style, and an accompanying cocktail, a martini.

Figure 1 Route map of the California Zephyr

Before we share the recipes, let’s discuss the history of the California Zephyr. Chicago Burlington & Quincy, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and the Western Pacific railroads jointly ran the Exposition Flyer beginning in 1939, transporting passengers from Chicago to the Golden Gate International Exposition, held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. The train was so popular that it continued even after the Fair ended in 1940. But the three railroads wanted to make a bigger splash, drawing up plans for a streamlined replacement and ordering new locomotives and trainsets. The thoroughly modern California Zephyr was launched in 1949. Like its predecessor Exposition Flyer, the train’s route connected Chicago with San Francisco, passing through Denver and Salt Lake City and crossing both the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada. The California Zephyr was known for its sleek, streamlined cars (especially the domes!) and its route through the stunning landscapes of the American West.

Figure 2 A California Zephyr passes the Dome Car Monument in Glenwood Canyon (today part of the Colorado Railroad Museum’s collection) circa 1950.

While going through the Colorado Railroad Museum’s archives of Zephyr menus, we were pleasantly surprised to find a 1949 article written by the one and only Lucius Beebe on the newly renamed California Zephyr. “Streamlined, Diesel-powered and very super-de-luxe indeed,” Beebe described in his article. He also noted that the Zephyr “crosses the West through a series of eye-popping vistas, and its schedule is arranged so that all these scenic delights are traversed during the daylight portions of the run.”

Figure 3 Cover page of Lucius Beebe’s article on the California Zephyr, 1949.

The California Zephyr offered the perfect train consist to fully experience the “eye-popping vistas,” especially the Vista Domes which “have all the fascinations and none of the discomforts of the cupola of a caboose,” according to Beebe. The consist included five of the Vista Dome cars, allowing passengers to view the scenery from a glass dome at the top of the car, with comfortable seats for optimal viewing.

Figure 4 Advertisement for the California Zephyr, noting the views offered with the Vista Dome.

Passengers dining aboard the California Zephyr had many delicious choices available. One of the interesting breakfast options was Colorado Mountain Trout. A Western Pacific advertisement for the California Zephyr (see figure 5) breaks down the meal options available for passengers throughout the day. The section on breakfast notes that “the crisp butter rainbow trout is but one of many wonderful ways to start a wonderful day of sightseeing!” Breakfast was not the only meal that mountain trout was offered for. It was also a popular dinner option. For more information on mountain trout, see our previous post from July 2022, linked here!



Figure 5 Western Pacific advertisement noting rainbow trout as a California Zephyr breakfast option.


Figure 6 California Zephyr menu featuring mountain trout as a breakfast dish, 1953.

In addition to meals, the California Zephyr offered several cocktail options, including a martini. Though we were unable to find commissary instructions or a recipe book from any of the railroads that the California Zephyr ran on, we decided to feature a recipe from Lucius Beebe’s Stork Club Bar Book, due to his expertise on both the topic of cocktails and railroads. (If any of our readers have a commissary book from the California Zephyr or a period-appropriate version from any of its host railroads, the Colorado Railroad Museum would like to add these to its collections). The Stork Club Bar Book is divided into sections: morning, noon, and night, and which cocktails are suitable for each time of day. The martini is featured in the morning section, though Beebe did note that the “less heroic generation” doesn’t ask for many cocktails at the Stork bar until “after the sun has crossed the proverbial yardarm at noon.” Beebe made sure to note that “a vast deal of pother has…been raised over the almost fanciful advantages of stirring over shaking Martinis,” but that the only noticeable difference is in how the drink looks—cloudy if shaken, and clear if stirred.

Figure 7 Denver & Rio Grande Western menu from the streamlined Prospector, featuring both mountain trout and a martini, 1967.

Whether you would like to try the Colorado Mountain Trout Zephyr Style with a martini for breakfast, or if you’d rather wait for (perhaps the more acceptable) dinner, we hope you enjoy! As always, if you try any of the recipes, please let us know on our social media accounts or in the comments below!

Colorado Mountain Trout Zephyr Style, from the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy
2 mountain trout filets, ½-3/4 lb. each
1 t salt
½ t pepper
Milk sufficient to dip trout
Flour to coat
3 T butter
Juice of ½ lemon
1 t chopped parsley
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, season both sides of each trout fillet with salt and pepper, dip in milk, and roll in flour. Quickly fry trout in butter, allowing 4-5 minutes for each side. Remove to heated platter. Pour browned butter over trout, sprinkle with lemon juice and parsley. Garnish with sprigs of parsley, julienne potatoes (recipe below), and a lemon wedge.

Julienne Potatoes in Butter
4 medium new potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T butter
Place potatoes in a sauce pan with water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and remove skin. Cut Julienne shape (small strips) using egg slicer to first cut one way, then turn and cut the other way. Season to taste, arrange on serving plate, and top with a pat of butter.

Recipe recorded from Dining by Rail: The History and the Recipes of America’s Golden Age of Railroad Cuisine, 1993, by James D. Porterfield.

Dry Martini
2/3 oz. Londons or dry gin
1/3 oz. French vermouth
Stir, decorate with olive and serve in 3 oz. cocktail glass.

Recipe recorded from Stork Club Bar Book, 1946, by Lucius Beebe.


1 Comment

  1. Our dual exhibit, “The Lens of Extravagance” featuring Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg will be leaving the Museum at the end of the month! Please stop by to enjoy it before it leaves if you are in the area!


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