I first enjoyed a steak at the Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn in 1975, and have been lucky enough to return to this famous restaurant a dozen or more times in the 32 years since … And forget thinking that I had “grown up” along with the restaurant, because it was established in 1887, or 120 years ago! Not too many restaurants in the world can claim that kind of longevity! They must be doing SOMETHING right. More than just the steak, a trip to Peter Luger brings back good food memories. I took my first trip to New York when I was 11 years old and it was an absolute eye-opener to spend two months in the Big Apple, discovering a lot of what it had to offer…. One of my vivid memories was a trip to this Steak House, and if I recall correctly, it was the first time that I had ever eaten meat served medium-rare. It looked like a cow with a gentle sun burn… eat it or weep. And I ate it and never forgot the experience, it was utterly sublime.
A trip to Peter Luger always begins with a car ride. My sister and her family lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and we would pile into the family car and drive down the FDR Drive, by the East River. We would eventually get pretty far downtown and cross to Brooklyn using the Williamsburg Bridge. As soon as we made the crossing, a sharp right and we were at the restaurant. The trek was part of the experience. Inside, a large bar serves as a holding area as your table is readied. Once seated on very basic wooden chairs, and staring at a weathered unvarnished wooden table, you peruse the menu, for what, I do not know. Since you almost always end up ordering the same thing, I know we always did. After ordering, a basket filled with fantastic bread arrives, plain rolls, sourdough rolls, pumpkin seed rolls, sometimes pumpernickel, etc. with generous slabs of sweet butter. The bread is always irresistable. Next up, we usually order a tomato salad with blue cheese dressing. An alternative would be a ceasar style green salad. The last time we were there, the tomatoes were bland and greenhouse like, but it was May, after all. A drink or two and the anticipation starts to build…
A couple of humongous porterhouse steaks, say a kilo plus each in size, grilled to perfection and served medium-rare (probably garnished with butter at the last minute) are served sliced on a large platter that is brought to your table and tipped a bit on its side using an upturned dish placed underneath. The purpose of this angled serving is to allow the fat and juices to drain to one end, thereby making it easier for you to scoop it up with a tablespoon and drizzle it over your steak slices. The meat is dense, and notably less watery than most other steaks. The secret is all in the meat… First Peter Luger prides itself in picking only the finest beef grade “Prime” (only 2-3% of all beef in the U.S. gets this vaunted rating, according to various web sites, including the restaurant’s own). Prime means it is beautifully marbled with fat, thereby making it tasty, soft and possessing a special mouth feel for the diner. The Prime Beef is then AGED to perfection in their chillers and this basically means the beef carcasses are hung to dry out a little over several days or weeks. As the moisture evaporates, losing say 5+% of the steak’s weight, the flavor gets more intense and concentrated.
The end result is an incredibly vivid blood red meat, that has less moisture than a grocery bought steak and with a flavor that will lodge permanently in your memory banks. Along with the steak comes a famous sauce that is a mixture of tomatoes and traditional style brown steak sauce. It is flavored with horseradish, I think, and it is unique to Peter Luger. Some folks dislike this sauce and view it as sacrilege to have it with fine meat, but I love it, ketchup fan that I am. Gnawing on the bone is heaven on earth and it is an honor to get the bone. I think The Kid got one of the bones the last time and she was ecstatic. You could be a total carnivore and only have steak. But more likely, you will order several of their signature side dishes…
First, a mountain of fried onion rings that arrive a tangled mess, but taste delicious. Sweet slices of onion fried in a nice batter in hot oil, cholesterol be damned.
For starch, some home fries are the normal order, though some tables opt for french fries instead (must have grown up on McDonald’s…heehee). And creamed spinach is there to add color to your dish, and reduce the feelings of guilt and probable coronary failure.
While I rarely recall ordering dessert at Peter Luger, The Kid couldn’t resist the sound of a chocolate sundae and it arrived looking like as many calories as the two steaks we had just consumed!
And finally, after some coffees and teas, a nice large chocolate gold foil wraped coin for each diner to take home. Nice touch. And they have been doing it for at least 30 years. This is one of my favorite restaurants in the whole wide world. It isn’t fancy. It doesn’t have a huge menu. They don’t have the best service on the planet. But they do a terrific steak every single time. And the total cost for 5 hungry diners?
About $180 with just a few drinks. That is about $36 or P1,600 per person. Not bad at all. (Oops. My notes were wrong, the charge slip says roughly $280, so it was $56 per person, roughly P2,500 per person, sorry.) The last time we visited, there was a severe shortage of Prime grade beef in the U.S., and for the first time in decades, Peter Luger started turning away reservations when their stocks of beef fell below desired levels. About a week after we ate at the restaurant, the New York Times reported this shortage… thank goodness we got our annual fix in before they ran out…
Other carnivore pleasing posts?