Where Did The Surf And Turf Originate?

Surf and turf, a mid-century steakhouse staple synonymous with "Mad Men"-era three-martini lunches, is seen by many as the epitome of indulgence. This was back in the day when excess was more the norm than the exception; when business deals were negotiated over multi-course meals, and sealed over a cigar and cognac. It's easy to imagine diners musing, "Filet mignon or lobster?" Then slapping the menu shut and announcing, "I'll have both."

Serving meat and seafood together at one meal isn't anything new. Indigenous people living in North America's coastal regions were celebrating special occasions with surf and turf-style feasts of venison, wild turkey, or other fowl served alongside clams, eel, cod, and lobster, first noted in the 17th century (via Indian Country Today). That was long before Madison Avenue executives began wooing big-money clients with their companies' unlimited expense accounts.

Food historians peg the emergence of the surf and turf dish as we know it today — that classic steak and lobster combo — to the mid-20th century (via The Food Timeline). So the question is, who first put the mouthwatering pairing on a 20th-century menu?

The debate continues

Some surf and turf aficionados insist the grand combo first emerged on the West Coast of the U.S., according to Ruth's Chris Steak House. Credit for this goes to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, where it debuted at the restaurant located at the top of the city's famed Space Needle, Sky City (via Times Colonist).

At the other end of the table (or country, if you will), the East Coast contingent holds firmly to its position that The Continental Restaurant in Saugus, Massachusetts is the home of the first official surf and turf; a theory supported by a 1966 advertisement in the Lowell Sun newspaper touting a seven-course Champagne Surf and Turf dinner, which included a junior filet mignon and baked stuffed Alaskan crab legs — all for just $4.95 (via Benny's Tacos).

While the debate over who first served classic 20th century steakhouse surf and turf rages on, chefs the world over continue to put their own mark on the famous combo. According to Lobel's Culinary Club, common variations include beef filet accompanied by shrimp or scallops instead of lobster. Even the venerable Ruth's Chris Steak House offers a few twists on the classic including Tournedos and Shrimp, two 4-ounce medallions of beef with a large shrimp, and invites patrons to create their own combination by adding shrimp or lump crabmeat.