In the world of Manhattan dining bests – best pizza, best food truck, best on-trend-cupcake – no genre of restaurant chomps on the bit quite so fiercely, nor has so much at stake (pun intended) as that of the New York City Steakhouse. With a selection that includes Benjamins, BLT, Del Frisco’s, and Wolfgang’s, few cities can serve up a medium-rare masterpiece like The City That Never Sleeps….
And of the best, none do their thing better than Peter Luger’s. The top rated steakhouse in New York for over two decades, few can deny that Luger has earned its rightful place in this spot, and I rest with the majority; an annual trip to the Peter Luger’s of Great Neck has been part of my family’s tradition for the past five years. And for the past five years, we all wait for weeks, with mouth-watering anticipation, until the date of the Luger reservation arrived, upon which time we would all feast to our hearts content, leave with stretched waist bands, and already the itching anticipation of another year-long wait.
But what, you might ask, makes Luger’s steaks not only special, but among the best in the country? Well, Peter Luger’s has been around for over 120 years, which is plenty of time to perfect their steak-selection process. Members of the Luger clan frequent the wholesale meat markets daily to scour for the best fresh cuts of Midwestern beef. Their criteria are stringent, and unwavering: only the short loin (a very tender and highly desirable portion of the porterhouse section of meat) can be used; the meat must come from cattle graded “PRIME” by the USDA; the meat must be a fresh pink color, with an even marbling of fat throughout.
Yet again, proof that if you use the best quality ingredients, the masses will come.
If a cut of short loin is lucky enough to be selected, the folks at Luger’s bring it back to the restaurant and dry-age it in-house, in a temperature-controlled room where cool air circulates around the meat.
Now, upon first instinct, dry-aging might sound, well, kind of gross. Letting meat sit out in the open air is one of the first “no-no’s” most cooks learn. But in a temperature and circulation controlled environment, the process of aging can occur relatively risk free, working its magic. And by magic, I mean science. Here’s how it works (according to Wikipedia):
With a recommended aging time of four weeks, dry-aging enhances beef by two means: First, moisture is evaporated from the muscle, creating a greater concentration of beef flavor and taste. Second, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to more tender beef.
And the result?
This is what Peter Luger’s is all about.
The restaurant itself is the perfect backdrop for these aged porterhouses. The rustic, Germanesque interior is laid out across several cozy rooms, in which broad tables are lined with white linens, which will inevitably be stained by the ravenous eating which ensues as soon as the steak is set down.
As soon as you are seated, a waiter instantly appears with a large basket of crusty, homemade rolls (the onion rolls are by far the best), sweet, creamy butter, and tureens full of Luger’s house steak sauce. Let it be known that their steak needs absolutely zero sauce, which is perhaps why the sauce is brought out with the rolls – the bread provides a mild, understated base to this delicious, horseradishy, tomatoey sauce. This sauce is actually rather surprising upon first taste, as it immediately tastes like a cocktail sauce from the inclusion of horseradish – but the traditional steak sauce notes can be detected upon further sampling, as the Worcestershire, tomato, and molasses flavors come through. Finger lickin’ good!
The waiters must be highly trained, because they also immediately take your drink order, all in one swoop. We had started out at the bar with the dirtiest dirty martini (and by that, I mean the best) I’d ever had. Obviously, the next logical step was a full bodied red, a rich Cabernet from Chile.
The Porterhouses are served family style – you can order the steak for two, three, four, or a steak for one, or the prime rib. We went for the Porterhouse for four, seared to medium-rare perfection, and the result was magnificent.
This steak tastes as though it were marinated in butter before cooked – so tender and smooth is the texture of the meat. It’s ridiculously flavorful, with tangy savory juices that ooze from each slice, a testament to the success of dry aging. Alongside, we had an order of creamed spinach – officially the best way ever to eat green vegetables – as well as hashed brown potatoes, and onion rings. All the sides are delicious, but with a show stopper like this steak, they were easily an afterthought.
And just when you thought eating several pounds of red meat was enough, enter Schlag. Schlag is essentially a German homemade whipped cream, but while the menu says “whipped cream,” what it really means is “churned-just-short-of-butter cream.” We all immediately doled huge scoops of this into our coffees, forgoing the normal sugar and cream.
We capped off the meal with a trio of desserts, all of which got an ample heap of Schlag - first, a rich, refreshing cheesecake, which even my brother, who is a cheesecake maven, couldn’t finish; a dense chocolate mousse cake that had a crisp chocolate crust I would liken to an oreo cookie. And my favorite, the traditional Apple Strudel, with tender, cinnamon-sugar slivers of apple wrapped in layer upon layer of crisp puffy pastry, topped with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Does this seem a bit over the top, perhaps a bit too much food for just one person?
What some call gluttony, I call opportunity…
So there you have it, friends - an evening at Peter Luger’s, in a nut-shell. So what’s the flip side? Well, this place is certainly not cheap. It’s a special occasion sort of place – where you go to celebrate an important birthday, or a new job, or a new baby. But when you think about it, really, what better way is there to celebrate life? Take the Luger Porterhouse Challenge – and get back to me!