When you’ve been serving steaks since 1887, you’ve probably learned a thing or two. The legend of Peter Luger in Brooklyn hangs over most steakhouses in the world like a godlike presence. Observe, salivate, copy, hope.
No matter the rumours of crusty service, the fact I had to make 23 (yes, twenty three) phone calls to get a reservation, and then carry a wheelbarrow full of 63 pence notes to pay the bill. Then there is the small matter of the Peter Luger sauce – so good and so secret you can get it served over a burger in the Tick Tock Diner under the New Yorker Hotel on 34th and 8th.
On the one hand, an old fashioned curmudgeonly refusal to move with the times. On the other, classic brand dilution. A nineteenth century anachronism that has no online booking and requires cash payments, with the marketing nous to launch its own credit card (which is the only one accepted for payment of your meal) and to mass produce the tangy sauce to promote its own legend.
All of this adds to the fascination that brings people across oceans to wallow in its magnificence. I am sold.
To paraphrase Brian Clough, my steak on a damp Wednesday lunchtime might not have been the best I’ve ever eaten but it’s in the top one.
Soaked in butter with even more in the platter to pour over it, the meat is moist, juicy, tender, evil. I manfully struggled through a one person ’9oz’ ribeye. ‘No, sir. The 9oz is the meat, the bone is not included in the weight’.
On the other side of the dime, creamed spinach was inedible – over rich and clagging to the palate, and the French fries were no better than average, if freshly cut. Whereas, the bacon starter was rich, thickly sliced streaky piggy goodness - and much better with the steak sauce than steak.
A sommelier from a modern Manhattan bistro had advised me to look no further than the house wine. I’m not sure if his assertion was that the wine list was limited, poorly chosen, overpriced, or maybe all of the above. I would also recommend the house, Peter Luger 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet because, at $55 it is a screaming deal for a very handy wine. Juicy, fruity, deep and dark with all the tannin needed to support a bloody piece of prime USDA beef.
Service from guys smart and assured in both appearance and attitude in aprons and bow ties was polite, efficient, friendly. I’m not sure where the Fawlty Towers rumours come from, maybe they have replaced the staff.
I love the sniffy assurance of the whole place, sold on longevity. 125 years is a long time. London steak houses sell the source of the meat, the cut, the cook, how the beast was fed, where it lived, the mystique, the Manhattan and Bloody Mary. Most French wine is sold the same way – zero information on the bottle other than the name. Young upstarts need to use the science bit (terroir, grape, named maker, endowment) to impress.
Peter Luger sells tradition, simplicity and a very good steak. And it’s about 2/3 the price of top London steakhouses. $180 for two including wine, service, starters, and butter – lots of it. Go.
Peter Luger, Inc.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
T: +1 718-387-7400