Keens is a place where you can learn about the past, see rare artifacts, and get annoyed with parents for allowing their kids to watch YouTube in the middle of it all. So, even though it bills itself as a steakhouse, it’s really more like a museum. This Midtown spot has been around since 1885, and it fully embraces its history and lore, but not at the expense of the main attraction - the meat on your plate.
Just as you won’t find the T-Rex hanging out by the vending machines in the Museum of Natural History, you’ll have to work your way to the meat at Keens. Wherever your table is in the two-floor dining room, you’ll be surrounded by countless antiques, like grandfather clocks, old guns, or a playbill that Abraham Lincoln was allegedly holding when he was shot. Take a second to scope out the ceiling, which is covered in 45,000 smoking pipes that belonged to former members of Keens’ Pipe Club, like Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, JP Morgan, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Albert Einstein. It’s almost impossible not to picture Babe in pinstripes and cleats ordering another round of whiskey and requesting his pipe.
As you take in all the relics, a bow-tied server will come over and explain the different cuts of meat like a tour guide in the Denon Wing at The Louvre. Whichever ones you go with, don’t forget to order some appetizers and sides as well. The hash browns are like a salty, charred shell surrounding creamy mashed potatoes. There are massive slabs of smoky bacon, and the creamed spinach will make you want to apologize to your doctor before your next visit, in a good way.
Then comes the meat. You may be tempted by the comically large king’s cut, a 32-ounce prime rib straight out of a Ron Swanson fever dream, but you should focus your attention on the porterhouse and the mutton chop. The porterhouse isn’t drenched in butter like the one at Peter Luger - a Brooklyn institution that opened two years after Keens - so the funk from the dry-aging is front and center. We’d confidently put the sirloin portion of the Keens’ porterhouse into the ring with Luger’s filet in what would be the meatiest fight since Rocky and Ivan Drago. The porterhouse “for two” can and should be shared by four, but Keens’ Mona Lisa is the mutton chop. It’s a two-pound cut of relatively old lamb that was a popular dish until modern breeding techniques phased it out. Keens is the only place in New York City still serving it, and it seems only fitting to enjoy this lost joy of a previous era in a room covered in grandfather clocks and smoking pipes.
After soaking up the last of the steak juice with house bread, you’ll be saturated with history and cholesterol, but you can’t call it a night quite yet. Share the ice cream sundae that has a thick layer of melted fudge at the bottom. And, after you pay, head to the casual bar room for a digestive aid in the form of a strong drink, or to escape the tourists taking pictures all over the dining room. But tourists are to be expected in museums, and at least at this one, you can take a sip of a classic martini whenever you feel the urge to yell at some kid watching YouTube.
There’s no need to put on airs at Keens. You’re going to eat a lot of meat here. But if you insist on starting things off with something green, then this caesar salad is your best bet. It’s not overly dressed, it’s quite fishy from the anchovies on top, and it’s big enough to share with the table.
Pregaming copious amounts of beef or lamb with intensely smoky, thick-cut bacon may only sound appealing if you’re preparing for a powerlifting competition or trying to impress Hemingway. But it’s exactly what you should do here.
The setting alone is enough to make you believe you’re dining on the Titanic (during the first half of the voyage), so there’s no need to pay $25 for five very normal shrimp here.
The carrots are doused in brown butter and could be served as a dessert, and the creamed spinach is rich without being too filling, but the best side dish here is the charred, salty, creamy hash browns. Still, just get all three.
If this prime rib is the “king’s cut,” then we hope he keeps a royal cardiologist nearby. It’s 32 ounces on the bone, and about the size of a spare tire in an old Peugeot. While the rib cap on the outer edge is delicious, the meat is mostly chewy and under-seasoned. Order the porterhouse or mutton chop instead.
The dry-aged porterhouse is cooked to the ideal shade of pink and has a nice salty crust. The tender filet is very good, but the juicy, slightly funky sirloin is the best part. Make sure you have some bread handy to soak up the pool of juices at the bottom.
Technically, sheep need to be over 16 months old to be considered mutton, and the ones here are around 12 months old. But they can call it whatever they want, because the two-inch-thick cut of meat is a perfect, fatty cut of lamb.
The fact of the matter is, any plans you had to go out after dinner at Keens are going to melt away halfway through your steak. So, you may as well go for the delicious ice cream sundae with a thick pool of melted fudge that the bottom, and a cookie and tons of whipped cream on top.