The tables are bare oak and the knives have battered wooden handles; the waiters can be impatient; the menu is short (most customers don’t even bother to look at it); and the prices easily rise to triple digits for two normal-appetite eaters, even without drinks. Still, no honest account of New York Roadfood would be complete without saluting one of Brooklyn’s – and America’s – great meat-and-potatoes dinners.
Peter Luger is an ancient (since 1887) neighborhood steak house that serves stupendous lamb chops and the occasional piece of fish, but is known rightfully for its porterhouse. You order it by the person – steak for two, three, or four – and what you get is a gorgeous slab of prime beef that has been well-charred on the outside, then cut into thick, rosy-centered strips on its serving plate. The waiter positions the plate at a tilt on a little dish so all the steak’s hot juices puddle up at one end (easier to spoon out that way) and can be drizzled on the steak slices or on hash brown potatoes. There are no words that adequately describe just how good this steak tastes. For us, a first bite after about a year away reminded us to be proud we are carnivores.
Side dishes are minimal but excellent: lovely thick-sliced tomatoes and onions, hash browns or baked potatoes (at dinner), creamed spinach and thick-cut French fries (at lunch), and always fresh, crusty onion bread and caraway salt sticks for starters. If you have any appetite remaining once the steak is polished off, you can have a grand finale with a piece of strudel or cheesecake, which will likely send the meal’s calorie count into quadruple digits.
I had always known Peter Luger’s as one of the premier steakhouses in NYC but after countless friends had repeatedly told me how great their burger was I just had to find out for myself. I’ve eaten quite a few burgers in my day and more often than not they don’t measure up to the hype. This one exceeded any expectations that I could possibly have had.
I have since eaten one three more times but on my first visit I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, cooked medium. When the waiter set the plate in front of me I had a good feeling. To start, there was a little plastic cow stuck in the top of the bun that said “medium.” Not many places do that anymore. Also, the bun looked as though it had just been freshly cut. I began to cut it in half so I could take a shot of the cross section and, upon doing so, a tiny river of pink juices flowed from the meat, a harbinger of good things to come.
When I took my first bite it was as though every burger I had eaten up to that point was in black and white and this was my first taste of Technicolor! Among people who love food, there is always debate about what makes a “perfect burger,” and many I have spoken to usually frown upon toppings and condiments, saying that they mask the flavor of the beef. I’ve always thought it was a matter of personal taste… until this day.
My first thought was, “Wow! So THIS is what beef is supposed to taste like!” The burger is juicy, with a very rich, beefy flavor. My love for this cheeseburger increased exponentially with each bite and, believe me, I took it slow so that I could draw out my joy for as long as possible. Never have the flavors and textures of the bun and the cheese worked so well to provide such terrific support without getting in the way.
The American cheese was a creamy counterpoint that cut through the richness of the meat and the bun held up nicely right to the last bite. But what about the bacon, you say? Well, much like that rack of ribs on Fred Flintstone’s car, this bacon was too unwieldy to fit on the burger without throwing off the balance. It was served on the plate and really is an entity unto itself. A fork and knife affair, thick, slightly charred and packed with a powerful flavor, this piece of porcine perfection is meant to be savored a small bite at a time.
I may have not travelled extensively and I certainly have not yet been to many of the great burger meccas across the U.S.A., but I can safely say that the burger at Peter Luger belongs up there among the best.
NOTE: Peter Luger only takes cash and the burger is only served during lunch (12:00pm to 3:00pm Monday to Saturday and 12:45pm to 3:00pm on Sunday). Reservations are recommended.