A Steak Grows in Brooklyn

In food on 11/14/2009 at 8:01 pm

These days, with vegans running rabid, (especially in the crunchy granola haven of Brooklyn) it’s nice to see that the ultimate meat stronghold in Williamsburg that is Peter Luger’s is still as formidable as ever.

We ventured into the city for a visit to celebrate the other half’s becoming a full-fledged barrister, officially anointed via passage of the Bar, in two states no less. While the other half used to go to Peter Luger’s religiously, i.e. once a month, I had only been once. We both have fond memories.

Our Persian friend scoffed when we invited her: tss, since when are you guys commercial? c’mon, it’s steak for christ’s sake.  i’ve already had the world’s best steak in argentina…with chimichurri sauce…you know, how they put an entire grill in front of your face, fine cuts of the world’s best meat (eat your heart out brazil), assorted thymus sweetbreads (mollejas), lower intestine, and argentinian-style morcilla (THE blood sausage).  it’s the only way to turn gizzard-haters into believers in finally giving gizzards the respect they deserve. all other dallas-style crap can go to hell.

Why is Peter Luger’s so good? They dry age their beef for a top-secret amount of time. Dry aging is basically letting meat rot slowly in a big room. Bacteria breaks down the collagen and meat fibers, rendering it a more consistent tenderness. It’s just like Americans to come up with a cheater’s way to improving a cut of meat while the Japanese pamper their Kobe cows with beer, classical music and weekly massages to get their spidery marbling perfect. But hey, it works, and it beats forking over $180 for thin slices of Kobe carpaccio at Megu:


We had considered rigging our own special fridge for dry-aging awhile back, but logistically, we weren’t ready to commit the time and energy needed for such an endeavor. Plus there’s the food poisoning factor, those lovely pre-formed enterotoxins are just a little too difficult to wrangle for an amateur.

I’d been on a steak kick lately, eating a filet mignon near the Delaware Water Gap and a sirloin at Torna a Sorrento, a cheesy Italian joint in my town. I even had prime rib in the wilds of Pennsylvania, which is not really a steak, rather, a roast, but it was still a 12oz slab of pure protein. But I tend to overeat, so after all these meat fests within two weeks, I had a stomach ache for several days. It felt like an ulcer. I couldn’t eat more than a handful of food before my gut started churning. But today, I was fully recovered and ready to tackle the perfect porterhouse that is the pride of Peter Luger’s.

follow the sign to heaven

As we approached from the east, this sign draws us closer, like a homing beacon. Whenever you go over the Williamsburg bridge (in the distance), you are greeted with this reminder of how lucky you are to live in the same town as Peter Luger’s. The place was sold by Luger to a Jewish family, who have run it for two generations. What’s cool is the women are the ones who select the sides of beef at the butcher and decide how long it is dry-aged.

just steps away

Just one block away! They only accept cash, so there is a huge bank conveniently located across the street, with an ATM. In 1985, the average check was $35. Today, it is $75 per person.

bartending in heaven, note the bloody mary house mix

Inside the lobby, there’s a bar along one side before the hostess/register. They use Sacramento tomato juice in their homemade vodka bottle-filled bloody mary mixes. The decor is not like the sumptuous steakhouses that are popular in midtown Manhattan or Las Vegas. It’s actually Bavarian, like a German clubhouse that went public. Sure there’s dark wood paneling and trim, but the tables are simple wooden blocks and the chairs are a bit flimsy. There are no leather booths. And I could’ve sworn there used to be sawdust on the floor. The focus is on the food.

when you look up in heaven this is what you see

dude, where's my shrimp?

This is the weird thing about Peter Luger. I once had their steak sauce from a supermarket and it was not like any I’d ever tasted: onion-y, chunky and tomato-y. When I think of steak sauce, I see a smooth, dark, flavorful concoction, a kicked up Worcestershire. Here, it tastes like a shrimp cocktail dip. I was watching a show called Steak Paradise that divulged that you’re not supposed to use their steak sauce on the steak. In fact, you’re only supposed to use it for the bread and sides. I dipped my onion roll in it today. Not bad, actually.

price of admission to heaven, circa 2009

I’ve never had anything besides the steak for two. Do people actually read this menu? Even the waiter asked if we wanted a menu when we sat down. Our birdwatching friend who was with us hadn’t had the fortune of ever coming to this lil’ hole in the wall, so this is the only reason we had the menu. I like how the prices are penciled in, for easy editing. Hey, look at the bargain prices for the daily specials! I wonder if they are any good.

Picture 15

What a kitschy design for steakhouse dishes. Does anybody know the story behind them? Or were they just some Fishs Eddy clearance item?

sirloin side of the porterhouse

A porterhouse is the classic dish to order. One side of the bone is sirloin, and the other is filet mignon. I decided recently that I like to chew my meat so I prefer the sirloin side. The steak is broiled at 800 degrees F for 8 minutes, sliced up into 1″ chunks, drizzled with butter, and put back to sizzle the fat. They like to follow a rule of thumb of bringing out the meat within 2 minutes of it leaving the oven, so that the butter is still sizzling when the plate is brought to the table.

lard and butter, an aneurysm in heaven

The waiter tilts the plate on a small butter plate and warns you not to touch it. He spoons the pooling fat back on top of the pieces before serving the table, each person getting a couple slices. Then he spoons the melted fats on top of each slice. I was too mesmerized to object. In retrospect, this last step only masks the beefy flavor. My best piece was one that was perched at the high end of the plate and had a chance to de-fat itself a little.

filet side of heaven

Filet side

two slices sent from heaven

Another gratuitous shot of meat, glorious meat

Everything is a la carte here. The waiter’s monologue goes people usually order one tomato and onion plate, a slice of double-thick bacon per person, the steak, German potatoes (torched beyond recognition) and creamed spinach. The tomato and onion is really just thick slices of tomatoes and white onions. I doubt they are organic or taste like the dirt they were grown in. It’s like the other tradition of eating a wedge of iceberg lettuce. I don’t get it. At least eating crispy bacon is something cooked. And, who doesn’t like bacon?

pennies from heaven

In exchange of the minimum $20+ tip you leave, the waiter tosses some milk chocolate coins on the table at the end of the meal. Who came up with the rule that a tip should be based on the price of the food? I think tipping more than $5 is exorbitant. $40, which we forked over, is enough for another two meals (not at Peter Luger’s).

sauce or vegetable?

The creamed spinach, usually a Thanksgiving side dish, is cooked to perfection here, or so I keep hearing from the other half. No one knows why Peter Luger first started serving it, but it is really tasty without seemingly being creamy. Some say the base is a roux. Since I don’t go for mushy things, it’s up to the other half to figure out a copycat recipe.

Actually the other half likes the creamed spinach the next day, schmeared on a bagel with a poached egg on top. We took an order to go. The leftover cow bits will probably end up in fried rice.

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