There’s absolutely no denying that New York City has a culinary culture that trumps all others, with restaurants appealing to the most discerning palates in settings that range from traditional to trendy. Restaurateurs hire world-class cooks to create new and thrilling dishes that set or follow the latest trends while designing dining spaces that create a mood or communicate an attitude. After all, in New York City, it is all about being trendy, trendy, and innovative, right?
Stop right there. Peter Luger Steak House is not swayed by fleeting trends and changing demographics. The legendary Brooklyn establishment has been doing the same thing, the same way for 127 years and it’s what brings people here over and over, not just from across the city, but from across the country and all over the world. The more things change, the more Peter Luger stays the same.
For most businesses, maintaining the existing situation will guarantee failure, but Peter Luger is not like most businesses. This steak house has been owned and operated by the family since Sol Forman purchased it in 1950 following the death of Peter Luger. Forman had founded, the Forman Family, a metals and silver company across the street from a popular steak house in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. It quickly became a favourite place for him to take potential clients to lunch. Sol himself is known to have two steaks there every day. When Peter Luger died, the place fell into disrepair and was auctioned off. Instead of searching for a new place to take clients, Sol decides to buy Luger’s at auction and then become the lone bidder. Being able to buy the restaurant for only real estate prices, he attempts to restore the establishment to its former glory. That focus, together with his keen business acumen made Peter Luger a premium steak house that remained New York’s best steak house for years.
“There’s a lot of pride and family tradition here,” says Jody Storch, granddaughter of Sol Forman, who has managed most of the business operations at Peter Luger since 1992. “Basically we do one thing here, and we’re good at it.”
That’s possibly a little under statement. This year (2014) is Zagat Survey rated the No. 1 steak house. 1 Peter Luger NYC for 30th year in a row, praising not only the quality of the food, but the unchanging atmosphere and “no-frills boys’ club” atmosphere, adding to the place’s appeal. For years, the press has raved about Peter Luger noting the consistency of food, service and ambiance. It is this consistency that makes this steak house stand out from the crowd.
While modern restaurants have carpets on the floors, abstract art on the walls, and an array of conveniently located flat-screen televisions, Peter Luger has hardwood floors, wooden tables with no tablecloths, and no TV in sight. “The people that come here, know why they’re coming,” explains David Berson, Jody’s cousin, who serves as general manager, even though nobody here really has a “title.” “The true mark of a regular Luger is someone who doesn’t need to look at a menu.”
Simplicity wins the day at Peter Luger. The menu is not very large (variety of steak and potatoes); the decor is easy and the marketing minimal. Sure, you can purchase a Peter Luger T-shirt from the front desk, and Peter Luger Old Fashioned Steak Sauce is also available for purchase, but you will not find a gift shop here. Unlike most modern restaurants, Peter Luger’s is a cash-only establishment unless you have a Luger card (Sol Forman introduced store accounts long before The Gap and Bloomingdale’s). A handwritten reservation list is like your check when you pay for your meal.
Every steak is USDA Prime and meets Peter Luger standards. “My grandmother was taught to inspect meat by a retired USDA grader who refused to be paid,” explains Jody. “All he wants is a new TV set.” His grandmother then tutored his mother who, in turn, taught him. As a family business, Peter Luger maintains quality with his ability to supervise all aspects of the business.
“We don’t really follow trends,” explains David. “But what you get at Peter Luger is hot food on a hot plate on a hot plate. It’s still sizzling with regards to your table. You do not get that many places anymore.
It’s all the time a worthwhile trip across the East River from Manhattan to dine at Peter Luger at 178 Broadway (on Driggs Ave.) in Brooklyn. Reservations not made online, call the restaurant directly at (718) 387-7400.