Think about your New York City bucket list. Skip past the inherent morbidity of bucket lists, and ignore the exact logistics or legality it’ll take to check things off it. Maybe you want to hide in the Natural History Museum bathroom at close and spend the night looking up at that massive whale, or fake a wedding proposal to get on the jumbotron at a Yankees game, or dress up as a ninja turtle and explore the city’s sewer system. There’s another thing that should definitely be on that list: have dinner at Peter Luger Steak House.
This Williamsburg spot has been around since 1887, and everything about it seems to be from a time when restaurants worried less about rising rents and more about prohibition agents. From the bow-tied bartender with slicked-back hair and a mustache, who fills tumblers of whiskey while people wait for their tables, to the regulars who order without looking at the menu, to servers saying “no credit cards” as they toss branded chocolate gold coins onto the table with the check - Peter Luger is an experience unlike any other you’ll find in the city.
People who call this place kitschy aren’t too cool for Peter Luger. They’re just missing the point. Peter Luger is for everybody, and you can see that as soon as you look around at the crowd. Unlike the clientele at a lot of Manhattan steakhouses, which can feel like SuitSupply showrooms, Peter Luger draws everyone from tourists on their honeymoon taking pictures with the menu to groups who have been coming after every Jets win since 1969 to M&A teams talking about the deal they closed as though they just sacked Rome. And all of those people realize this place is an institution.
The overall experience is the reason Peter Luger should be on your bucket list, but the food - generally, a barrage of red meat - will leave you hoping Deepak Chopra starts endorsing high-fat diets. Start with a couple sides of extra thick bacon, and then move on to the main attraction: the porterhouse. Old-school servers put thick slices of filet and sirloin on your plate, and then spoon juices from the meat and melted butter on top. It’s by far the best cut at Luger, and it belongs in any conversation about the best steaks in the city.
The sirloin and ribeye are prepared the same way as the porterhouse - dry-aged and cooked just with salt and butter - but they’re not as good on their own. That’s where the big gravy boats of Peter Luger Sauce come in handy. Between this steak sauce, which we’ve been putting on steak and chicken and pasta (and pretty much everything else) since we were old enough to open the fridge, and the pool of juices at the base of each plate of meat, there are no bad bites here.
After you soak up all those pools of juices with onion bread, your server might suggest one more thing before bringing the hot fudge sundae: pick up the dry-aged t-bone in your hands and gnaw the last of the meat off the bone. And with that, you’ve officially crossed Peter Luger off your bucket list.
This is less like traditional bacon, and more like when your uncle got his hands on an electric knife at Christmas and cut the ham into inch-thick slabs. But we’re definitely not complaining. Each piece has strips of fat along the sides as well our favorite parts - the charred portions on the ends. Yes, this is meat as an appetizer before a lot more meat. And it’s what you do here.
At Peter Luger, fries and onion rings are your palate cleansers. The German fries (hash browns) are pretty good, and creamed spinach is always an acceptable thing to put next to a plate of red meat, but the French fries are our favorite side here. They’re thick, crunchy, and salty, and should be dipped liberally in the jug of house steak sauce.
The burger is only available at lunch, and if you’re the kind of person who judges a burger 90% by the meat and 10% by everything else, then you need to schedule a midday “doctor’s appointment” and eat here. It’s more than a half-pound of dry-aged beef, and while it’s good enough to eat with a fork, you should get it with thick-cut bacon, and then maybe schedule an actual doctor’s appointment.
The porterhouse is to Luger’s as Bruce Willis is to Die Hard movies. It’s the item that the brand was built on, and it occupies the vast majority of screen time. The house cut comes out pre-sliced with filet on one side of the bone and sirloin on the other. The juicy sirloin tastes like better versions of steaks you’ve made at home, but the filet is the showstopper. It’s salty, fatty, and it has some funk from the dry-aging, and it’s tender enough to cut with a fork. This is one of the best cuts of steak in New York City.
Inevitably, every plate of meat here starts to look like a piece of abstract art as the pools of juices and butter deepen, and Luger sauce gets smeared across the plate. With all that going on, you’re not going to have a bad bite of meat here. But we’d recommend the porterhouse or lamb chops before the rib-eye. We like the cap with its layer of fat, but the thick char overwhelms the flavors of the leaner parts.
Sure, steak is in the name of the restaurant, but don’t overlook the lamb chops. They’re loaded with flavor and served over a particularly large pool of juices. Besides the filet, we like this as much as anything on the menu.
After finishing the last of the meat, you may wonder if restaurants are like bars and cut people off for eating too much. Ignore that feeling and get this hot fudge sundae. It comes topped with a mountain of schlag (housemade whipped cream), which you can also order on its own, and use as a dip for the branded milk chocolate gold coins they throw on your table with the check.