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Review: Peter Luger

Posted by gambit50 on May 23, 2008

Peter Luger, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Another steakhouse review. This time, THE steakhouse review. Yes, I have spoiled the ending and will say that it is the best in the city, period. Proponents of lesser meat houses might gripe that I have not been to all of the venues of good name but I have learned to avoid rubbish. I do not need to go everywhere to know that they are not good or not good enough.

Most of the great things you will read ad nauseum about P. Luger are true. Best meat, off location, limited menu, not the fanciest of settings, difficult reservations, etc. are true. I almost feel as if writing more than 10 lines about this place is a waste but I will waste our collective time anyway, just in case I have something useful to point out.

The Williamsburg location is not exactly in the middle of anything nice or useful though it is now on an edge of the great development of the area. Years ago, when walking from the train stop to the restaurant it even seemed a bit unsafe. It is still not the most scenic walk but it is worth it if your goal is great steak. The neighborhood still has a fair amount of crime, apparently, but do not fret much even late at night.

The exterior of the building is actually quite nice, I think. It has been spruced up over the years. The brick and dark wood paneling are very appropriate. There is a parking lot specifically for Peter Luger right across the street with an attendant. Though it might be hard to find, normally, the huge billboard coming from one direction and the fact that there is nothing else similar within a few blocks makes this an easy target. If you see a dark awning, you are there.

Unfortunately, the interior is the same drab wooden floor, tables and chairs from over the years. It is not so much that I need new or fancy but more comfortable chairs would be good. They can keep them old and less than beautiful. People argue for and against this lack of pizzazz. Some argue that it makes it “old school” and others that it just sucks a bit too much. I do not think that you have to have old wood to make a great steak so that argument is a bit stupid. On the other hand, I rather have great food than great décor so for those who gripe about needing a better scene, well, you are shit out of luck.

The clientele is about on par with the interior. Though you will spot some Manhattanites, there is an overabundance of the fat, local types and tourists. I guess if you have one really great restaurant in your borough and need a place to park and you are the type that thinks Tony Soprano is a style maven, you would go there too and hang out with your ever so macho buddies. Honestly, none of this matters to me so much when I am there but if it changed, I would not complain.

There are 3 main rooms for dining in Peter Luger. The front room, my first choice with the most room per table, the back room, which has more large groups and upstairs. Avoid the last if possible because of a lack of light. As of late 2007, there is a new room on the ground floor that had been in the works for about 5 or 6 years. I have not dined there but an acquaintance has and said it is one of the better spots in the restaurant. What is depressing is that even with this new room which holds dozens of more seats, the place is still booked solidly all the time. Oh, and there are a couple of tables right next to bathrooms in the front room and upstairs. Do not accept them.

I am old enough to have gone to Peter Luger when there were still no menus. Yes, I do like that. Prepare a few dishes well and you have me. If I know I will enjoy myself at a restaurant that is what matters. Having 200 choices of crap is not a bonus for me. Something great can be had over and over and it is not as if I dine there everyday though it is one of the restaurants I have frequented most often.

Here is a pathetic story from my youth. It is not as if I have to be a super slickster but I do like to fit in enough not to be THAT guy who is saying something ignorant. Basically, I do not want to be the guy who I raise my eyebrows at or just plain make comments about. So for my first trip to P. Luger, I was prepared to order as if I knew what I was doing since there were no menus and I knew that asking for a menu was practically a sin. It went over quite smoothly, I just ordered for the table. In fact, someone asked for a menu in my party and I furrowed my brow, scoffed at them a bit and told the waiter how it was. We don’t need menus and here is what we want. Everything was great and I had my aura of Luger knowledge intact.

Nowadays, there are new menus and a larger selection of items. While old-timers(including myself) from the no menu days will lament all this, I do not believe it has had the usual effect of a drop in quality. Truthfully, it is not obligatory for a change from the old ways to imply something worse in the new operation but I understand that since this does occur in the majority of cases, people do not want to chance it. I just judge each situation on its own merit. In this case, the food is pretty much the same.

The common written state of the service is that it is short and gruff. Certainly not the pampering type of place. It is true that the waiters will not regale you with romantic tales about ingredients and the merits of the chef. This would be inappropriate since the menu is simple and the star of the show is broiled meat with salt and butter. The staff is competent and the service speedy. Actually, too speedy for my taste. Since most dishes are made quickly and often, if you care to linger a bit, do not order right away and take your time while eating your first course because they will clear the dishes and serve the rest of your order about as fast as possible. Most of the guys (yes, they are all men) are pretty cool and chatty enough for myself but a couple are too gruff for the amount they are paid. I find most of them attentive enough to the needs of the table but nobody will be fawning over every move. While the pouring of the butter sauce over the steak and the individual mini servings of mains and sides onto each person’s plate is a waste of time and a bit annoying to me, the rest of the service is fair enough.

As far as beverages, there are a few beers, my people get the Brooklyn Brewery Lager, and some wine which from the little I peeped the list are quite poor. I do not go there for the booze and much like the other shortcomings of this establishment, this issue does not get in the way of my immense satisfaction.

On the topic of the food, let me start with the main draw, steak. Porterhouse is the star, it comes in servings for 1-4 but it is my belief and possibly a faulty one, that the steak for 2 is the best choice. There is no discount for getting a steak for 4 so I would get 2 x steak for 2 if you require that much. Medium rare is the way to go, as usual and this place always delivers the porterhouses at the requested temperature. It is just great meat, dry aged nicely and that butter sauce with the super hot broiler just finishes it to a superb level. In all my visits, I have had one steak that I considered below the very lofty standard. There are many gripings on the internet of late that the consistency is a bit lower than years ago and I can believe that due to the scarcity of great beef. However, it has not been my experience and I doubt even the worst case scenario is too much off the top.

This scarcity of beef has led P. Luger to offer a ribeye as of 2007. Unheard of and some think blasphemous but due to the huge demand at their restaurant, management would rather serve you another great steak of a different cut than a subpar standard cut. I agree with that logic though I have not sampled the ribeye and do not know anyone else who has either.

Nobody has ever ordered anything but steak as an entrée at any of my tables during any of my meals at Peter Luger. There is one exception which is served only at lunch. That is the burger. It is one of the best in NYC and a rather unknown and underappreciated item. I highly recommend it for a lunch item, either as a main or if gluttony is on the menu, as an appetizer or split appetizer. As usual, I get my burger medium. Chopped beef is not the same as a single, thick piece and I find the adjustment in cooking temp necessary. Rare chopped meat is not a great thing, as opposed to rare steak.

I add bacon only to my burger. Everything is good about it, solid bun and good, not great fries. The burger itself and the bacon are the highlights. Plus, this eliminates the need to order the dinner appetizer must of Canadian bacon strips.

Yes, a must if you have any first courses. Just get one since they can be ordered individually. This bacon is more salty than smoky and when not overcooked it is fantastic. I do not like crisp bacon but some do. Ask them to prepare it to your liking though it may not happen.

Other appetizers include sliced tomato and onions, jumbo shrimp cocktail and there are salads. I have never had a salad and I would skip the other apps, they pale in comparison to the meat products.

As far as we who dine at Luger are concerned, the only side dishes are creamed spinach and German fried potatoes. The latter are somewhere between French fries and hash browns and are not much better than mediocre though they are better suited to the porterhouse than French fries. In fact, on my last visit we were informed that they were out of German potatoes. French fries instead? No, that sucks. We were distraught and at a loss. We caved in and ordered the fries but were surprised with the last of the German ‘taters. They were overcooked but it was still better than having none.

The spinach is very good if not a divine experience by itself. The combination of steak, potato and spinach in most mouthfuls is the Luger experience. Awesome, that is all there is to say.

After gorging on beef and hefty sides there is dessert to be considered. The chocolate mousse and apple strudel are nothing special. The pecan pie is very good and the cheesecake, my usual choice, is also. The cheesecake is from S&S bakery and I assume that the other desserts are made elsewhere, possibly even S&S, as well. The schlag that comes with dessert is perfectly fitting for a meal of this sort. Super thick, whipped cream with the right amount of sugar. Grab a dollop with every bite of dessert and this is as close to a food coma as I get and I hate using that phrase. Don’t forget to take some chocolate gold coins that come with the check in case you need more sugar at some point later on.

And that check will come as quickly as you let them give it to you. High prices, quick turnaround, all cash(or the Peter Luger card, get real) are the way they do business. I would like to hate them for all the money they make but at least they deliver what they are supposed to. So make the trek to Billyburg in Brooklyn, eat up and do NOT use any Peter Luger sauce on your meat. That is a mortal sin at the very least.

NTG

Summary: The best steakhouse in NYC. Location is not great but not so bad from Manhattan as it is right across a bridge and close to a subway stop but for an off subway line. A pain for some people to get reservations and with good reason. Great steak and burgers, good accompanying sides and desserts. What more do you want? Nice décor, no. Pampering by the staff, no. None of that will happen. Worth the trip for sure and if you don’t think so then you are probably a birdlike eater and/or ignorant of meat. Last visit, 7/2007. Cost: $82pp

Peter Luger

178 Broadway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
(718) 387-7400

Ratings:

Food: 88

Vibe: 75

Service: 81

Value: 80

Overall: 88

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