Thursday, May 29, 2008

Peter Lugers and Hill Country

It turns out that my friend Grant who was visiting from England that I took to Coney Island for some Nathan's hot dogs had never tried barbecue. While I had vowed to take him to Luger's I thought that some 'cue was equally important. Well the trip to Luger's went ahead as scheduled and we also went to Hill Country hours before he flew back home. To say that Grant was impressed would be an understatement. There was no doubt in his mind that the Peter Luger porterhouse that we shared was the best steak he had ever eaten. I remember my first Luger experience and I had a similar reaction. He loved the 'cue as well but I'll get to that later.

Peter Luger's

To his absolute credit, and in complete contravention of stereotype my friend eats his steak black and blue, a rare (pardon the pun) thing in England. This allowed us to share the porterhouse rather than ordering individual steaks as I have often been forced to do when dining with those who like their steak more well done. As most any Luger fan will know the porterhouse for two is the best thing on the menu as they take it from the optimal part of the primal cut, where the filet and strip are in perfect proportion. I have eaten a lot of steak and I still find Luger's beef the finest example of USDA Prime porterhouse I have had. The quality of the beef is beyond reproach as is the aging which imparts a pronounced mineral rich tang to the steaks but the preparation and indeed the presentation can often leave something to be desired. Specifically I have never had a true black and blue steak at Luger's, they come out closer to a dark tan and blue. No matter how politely I request "extra char" the request goes unfulfilled. Indeed on my last visit the waiter bristled with indignation when I somewhat pedantically requested my steak "extra black," as if I was insinuating that he did not understand what black and blue was. Despite this the steak showed up under charred. I don't really get upset by this anymore, it is par for the course at Luger's. I am not the biggest fan of the sliced presentation either although I supposed it makes sense when serving two or more people. I also find the butter that drowns the steak to be superfluous. But having said that it is still an amazing steak and while it lacked char it was perfectly cooked inside. It was also beautifully marbled, which is always the case at Luger's anyway but it was especially pronounced this time.

The excellent German potatoes are not available until 3pm and since we ate there at around noon the French fires had to suffice. Which was not a problem since they are superb, among the best in the city in my opinion, being both crispy and tender. Similar in fact, like Nathans fries to good English chips. Grant was not impressed, good chips are readily available in the UK, a steak like Luger's on the other hand is far more elusive.

I have never really liked the creamed spinach at Luger's that much but I thought that Grant should have the proper steakhouse experience making the dish de rigueur. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, the spinach was very fresh and far less stogy than usual

Despite the lack of external char it was still an exceptional. steak. I think Luger's should serve as an entry point in to any exploration of the NYC steakhouse genre. I am sure Grant would agree.

Peter Luger Steakhouse
178 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY

Hill Country

The next day I met Grant for lunch at Hill Country which despite being chosen out of convenience is as good a place as any for an introduction in to NYC barbecue. While I find the decor tiresome I must contritely admit that I enjoy taking foreigners here precisely because of the theme park nature of the interior design. I had not eaten at Hill Country in a few months and I now find that they have reached a certain equilibrium. It is far more consistent these days than the wild swings in quality that I experienced during their opening months, but it does not quite live up to the heights that it once scaled since the departure of original pit master Robbie Richter and and Big Lou. Having said that it seems that HC is more popular than ever, indeed when Grant and I arrived at lunch time there was a long line and the all the tables on the top floor where occupied.

I think that Hill Country consistently puts out some of the best brisket in NYC and while I may quibble about the amount of fat that is often served on it the meat itself is moist and delicious.

Unfortunately the beef rib lover is the victim of HC's success, they simply can not seem to get the same quality rib that they used to get. The ribs are still excellent but they are not as meaty as before requiring that you order more and because they are leaner they can get quite jerky like. Thankfully the ribs we ate were quite meaty with a dark, oaky flavor. We also had the excellent Jalepeno Cheddar sausage that has rarely failed to please. It was particularly succulent on my most recent visit with a crunchy, snappy casing. We also ordered the coleslaw which has thankfully shed the raisins that once disgraced the dish and some blackeyed peas that Grant ordered out of sheer curiosity. Grant and I wisely concentrated on the meat and within minutes there was nothing left on the wax paper than a pile of bones and a pool of grease, the sides went largely untouched. So to the Lone Star beer, while American beef mightily impresses Brits the same cannot be said for American beer. Grant had to leave for the airport soon after lunch so we didn't make it to Shake Shack for desert but he will be back soon enough I am sure. Eating at Nathan's, Peter Luger's and Hill Country for the first time in the same week should be enough to get any self respecting carnivore back to the Big Apple ASAP.

Hill Country
30 West 26 St Street
NY, NY 10010


DocChuck said...

Geez, I have been so busy sorting, printing and mailing our 400 photos of the great Northwest, that I almost missed your last post.

Your comment: ". . . the waiter bristled with indignation when I somewhat pedantically requested my steak "extra black," as if I was insinuating that he did not understand what black and blue was."

I know that I am not appreciated by the NYC crowd (and a few of your non-NYC readers), but as a native Southerner, I simply cannot understand this type of Neanderthal behavior from a "waiter."

When I spend good money to eat in a fine restaurant, I expect nothing but the utmost of gentility . . . anything less (and any "bristling" or discourtesy whatsoever) and I WALK OUT.

In a Missoula, Montana restaurant, we told the waiter that we wanted our filets "black and blue", and that we would settle for nothing less.

He consulted with the chef, returned to our table, and then invited my wife Elizabeth and I into the kitchen to observe the preparation.

Now, THAT is the kind of service I appreciate when spending over $200.00 for dinner!


Browners said...


I love your blog and find myself drueling over the pictures of charred, rate meat you post up.

I've tagged you for a Meme and would love it if you could get involved.



Positively Bagelicious said...


Why do you have to be such a pompous blowhard on every blog you post to?


You took Nick's innocent comment -- which so many of us can sympathize with --and turned into a lecture belittling New Yorkers (again) and crowing all about your false sense of superiority.

Let it go buddy. Please. We can all live without it.

Doc Chuck said...

My dear 'Bagelicious': As a well-bred and EXTREMELY well-educated Southren gentleman, I can assure that I am no more pompous than I am a blowhard. My wife earns an excellent salary as CEO of several laser hair-removal salons, and I have wisely invested my earnings as a TA over my "many" years. We demand VALUE above all else in everything we pay for, whether it be dining or water taxis, as my little "anecdote" was intended to convey. Please take my "offerings" in the spirit in which they are intended.

Anonymous said...

thanks nick,

ate some of the best steak i've ever had, ribs were spot on and nathan's was a great place to eat my first hotdog.

i look forward to my further education!