To write a review of Peter Luger Steakhouse seems absurd. All that’s worth saying has been said, right?
There’s only two ways this review can go, and you already know them. Either it’s the best steakhouse in the city, or it’s criminally overrated. Both views have ample support, from carnivores more knowledgeable than I.
Let me trianguate. It ain’t bad. I’d happily go again, if asked. But I wouldn’t recommend it either. The quality of New York steakhouses has risen markedly since Ruth Reichl awarded three stars in The Times in 1995. The city’s best porterhouses are no longer a Luger exclusive. If you want to traipse over the Williamsburg Bridge, to say you’ve done it, then go ahead. But you don’t have to. There is really no need.
If you do, expect to reserve at least five weeks in advance. Don’t forget to bring cash, and lots of it, as they don’t accept credit cards.
The décor, resembling a German beer hall, is bare bones. The servers in white aprons and red bow ties are not gruff, as legend tells. In fact, they even smile, on occasion. If you ask them to shoot a photo of your party, as a memento, they’ll do so. (We didn’t; others did.)
They’re constantly on the move, as Luger is all about volume. Plates and wine glasses arrive on our table, still hot and dripping from the dishwasher. Both the menu and the wine list are dog-eared; they obviously haven’t been re-printed anytime recently. The bread service (above left) offers ample variety, but the rolls are cold. So is the butter.
Soon after you’re seated, a tub of the famous sauce (right) appears at the table. It’s a multi-purpose sauce, for salad, tomatoes, steak, or anything except perhaps dessert.
When Frank Bruni of The Times demoted Luger to two stars in 2007, he noted that “it’s time, way past time, that Luger seriously upgraded” its wine list. The restaurant doesn’t seem to have heeded that advice. The whole list runs to two pages. It would be impressive at an enterprising neighborhood spot, not at what purports to be the city’s best steakhouse.
What the others don’t have is their own branded Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. We had to try it ($55). Guess what? For the price, it is not bad at all.
The appetizers flew out of the kitchen. Naturally, we had the bacon ($4.25; above left): acceptable, but no longer unique.
For a party of four, Luger’s “Steak for 3” is more than enough ($152.25; above center and right). This was a fine specimen, but lacking a crisp exterior char to contrast with the superb red center. Several in our party had ordered the porterhouse last year at Wolfgang’s, a Luger clone with three Manhattan branches. We agreed: Wolfgang’s was better.
To go with the steak, we ordered the creamed spinach and German potatoes, the latter a mediocre rendition of a recipe that is usually a lot better.
The desserts were excellent: an ice cream sundae scrved with house-made whipped cream called “schlag,” and a warm apple cobbler. The meal ends with the trademark coins, wrapped in gold foil with chocolate discs inside.
A few weeks later, I attended a business dinner at another of Manhattan’s many Luger clones, Benjamin Steakhouse. There was one bizarre glitch: the server forgot to serve the bacon, an odd omission as practically every table there orders it, as they do at Luger. But in every other way it was superior to Luger: better service, a nicer room, a deeper wine list, a wider range of side dishes, and yes, a better steak. It didn’t take five weeks’ notice to get in, and they accept credit cards. The same is true at any of the Luger clones, whether it’s Wolfgang’s, MarkJoseph, or Ben & Jack’s.
Of course, Peter Luger is critic-proof. It doesn’t change, because it doesn’t have to. By all means go, if you must. I certainly wouldn’t avoid it, and might even go again, someday. But for most of us, it’s a long trip for an experience that doesn’t quite live up to its promise.
Peter Luger Steakhouse (178 Broadway near Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg)
Food: A classic New York steakhouse
Service: Veteran servers who know what they’re doing, but work awfully fast
Ambiance: A German beer hall
Rating: Not Recommended