Luger's first opened in 1887 as Carl Luger's Café - Billiards and Bowling Alley. Peter Luger was the owner and his nephew Carl was the chef, but according to critics, when Peter died the restaurant drifted downward. In 1950, Carl put the place up for auction, and the only bidder, Sol Forman, a customer of twenty-five years who owned a giftware factory across the street, bought it for a low bid. Sol lived to the ripe old age of ninety-eight, during which time Luger's became the place to eat in New York, in Brooklyn, just across the East River from Manhattan.
Today, the restaurant is owned by a group, but it's run by Sol's daughter Marilyn and her sister Amy, and Jody Storch, Sol's granddaughter, who regularly walks through the testosterone-loaded Manhattan wholesale meat district selecting sides of (mostly) Midwest beef to bring to the restaurant for its super-secret dry-aging process - not a small job when you're serving up ten tons (that's twenty-thousand pounds) of beef a week.
With the hand selection, hand trimming, aging, and careful preparation, the steaks aren't cheap, and the restaurant accepts only cash, or their own credit cards. At last count, they had something like 85,000 cardholders.
The restaurant is an icon in a city of famous eating places, but unlike many of them it has a spartan décor, which tells you the owners and managers put their money into the food, not into wall sconces and imported crystal wineglasses. The main dining room is a bare bones as you can get, with wood floors, wood paneling, dark wood ceiling beams, and polished wood tables.
One week of table reservations written by hand,
which they prefer over a computerized system.
But people don't go to Luger's for décor. They go for thirty-two-ounce Porterhouse steaks. Of course there are the almost-as-legendary side dishes: creamed spinach, German fried potatoes, grilled bacon, and a hefty tomato and onion salad with house-made dressing. And they do offer lamb chops, and salmon and pot roast and chicken, usually as daily specials. But I don't know why. This is steak country, or as one fan put it: "the cathedral of steak." Amen.
The steaks are served in an 800°F-plus broiler, then placed on a puddle of clarified butter on a serving plate, which is put into an oven to finish cooking. Then each steak is cut into slices before it is placed on a hot platter for serving. The 1 3/4-inch-thick Porterhouse is crunchy and dark on the outside, especially on the thin edge of fat they leave on the steak, and butter tender all the way to the bone inside. The only condiment offered, unless you're crass and ask for ketchup, is their own brand of rich brown steak sauce. And for anyone counting calories while they down the creamed spinach, fried potatoes, and two-pound steak, there's some good news - the sauce is fat-free!
Heaven-scent grilled bacon.
Serves 6 to 8
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Parsley sprigs, for garnish
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch fries.
In a Dutch oven or deep fryer, heat the 3 cups oil to 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer and cook the potato strips, in batches if necessary to prevent crowding, until a light golden brown. Using a wire-mesh skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.
In a small skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat and sauté the diced onion until golden brown. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the paprika and set aside. Transfer the cooked potatoes to a cutting board and cut into 1/4-inch dice.
In a large, heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the potatoes. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the cooked onions, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the white pepper. Stir to blend.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish, sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon paprika, bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly crisp on the top.
To serve, spoon the potatoes onto warmed plates and garnish with the parsley. Serve hot.