Believe it or not, doing time at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary came with a perk – the food. The infamous prison served some of the penal system’s best grub, and from August 8 through September 2, you can experience a commemorative meal at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco.
Victor Litkewycz, the executive chef at the hotel’s Eclipse Restaurant, has created a menu, served from 5pm to 10pm daily for four weeks, based on what he thinks might be served on “The Rock” today if the prison was still up and running. For $28, guests receive a first course of clam chowder, followed by their choice of entrée (short ribs, meatloaf, spaghetti, or halibut), and banana bread pudding for dessert. Of course, the meal is served on a stainless steel, institutional tray. After all, this is prison food!
But, what made Alcatraz’s food so good, and why is it worth commemorating? Fresh ingredients and a dedication to quality – two concepts that figured into the Hyatt’s menu. James A. Johnston, the first warden at Alcatraz, believed that most prison unrest resulted from bad food, so he took a vested interest in the kitchen. The convict staff received quality ingredients from the mainland to supplement the produce farmed on the island. In a sense, they implemented the farm-to-table concept long before it became a culinary buzz word.
“The food at Alcatraz was as good as you would get in a good restaurant that specialized in home-cooked meals, better than most,” says former inmate William Baker. His favorite meal while he was there? The spaghetti prepared by an elderly Italian convict.
After your Alcatraz dinner at the Hyatt, enjoy your freedom by strolling through the lobby’s 3,000 square-foot exhibit to learn what life was like on the inside. “Alcatraz: Life on The Rock” features a replica cell, 25 Life magazine photographs by Leigh Wiener depicting the prison’s last day, and information on its most infamous inmates, including Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Space is also dedicated to Alcatraz’s days as a military fort and its occupation by Native American activists. The display is free and open to the public.