New York’s bustling steakhouse industry has settled into three distinct camps: classic, modern, and Peter Luger clones.
Classic steakhouses feature fairly predictable menus, old-school waiters (always men), and throwback décor (mahogany paneling, white tablecloths, oil paintings). You often see large, boistrous, all-male parties at these places; they’re much favored by investment bankers celebrating the latest deal, and so forth. Sparks and Keens are typical classic steakhouses.
Modern steakhouses are those that break the mold, usually by offering non-steak items you can take seriously, more inventive side dishes, friendlier service, and more contemporary décor. BLT Prime and Craftsteak head up this category.
The Luger clones are a variant on the classic steakhouse, but there are enough of them to list separately. The key giveaway is a menu that emphasizes “Steak for One” (Two, Three, or Four), the famous thick-cut Canadian bacon, and German-fried potatoes as a side dish. Examples include Wolfgang’s and Mark Joseph.
Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse is firmly in the classic mold, and it may be the best of the bunch. I loved my first visit there, 2½ years ago, even if my three-star rating was utterly crazy. I don’t know what took me so long to get back, as the Ninth Avenue location is practically on the way home. Anyhow, I finally got back again the other night.
I was enormously impressed with a truncheon-sized ribeye ($45) with a beautiful exterior char. Only at Strip House have I seen it bettered.
I was impressed with the wine list, too: a hefty tome with plenty of decent bottles below the $50 mark, and wines by the glass that are actually printed. At most of the classic and Luger-style steakhouses, the waiter just intones, “Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir,” as if it were irrelevant which Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, or Pinot Noir they were serving.
The décor, I must admit, is a little tacky, with “Lobster,” “Caviar,” etc. painted in big block letters along the wall. In other respects, Uncle Jack’s has the standard steakhouse ambiance nailed.
Service is better here, with waiters who don’t seem as bored as most steakhouse waiters, and who circle back frequently to check up on you.
Uncle Jack’s doesn’t get as much publicity as the other classic steakhouses, but I am not sure why. On the basis of my visits, I much prefer it to Keens or Sparks—to give but two eamples. There are now three outposts of Uncle Jack’s: the original in Bayside, the one I visited on Ninth Avenue, and the newest branch in West Midtown, on 56th Street.
Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse (440 Ninth Ave. between 34th & 35th Sts., Hell’s Kitchen)