Peter Luger’s Steak House

Scent of Brooklyn
Scent of Brooklyn

After two days of crawling in the tight, labyrinthine, sun-blocked streets of Manhattan it was a release to take a cab across the Brooklyn Bridge in spite of a steady early afternoon drizzle. We were heading to what some say is the greatest steak house in America, Peter Luger’s.

As we rode along, the gray geometry of bridge girders flashed against the granite skyline and my eyes responded with a visual version of the aural clackety-clackety-clack of a locomotive.

We’d eaten two ambitious French meals yesterday and an Asian banquet the night before that. A simple steak sounded tantalizing!

When we won the Gourmet Magazine award for the “Best Restaurant in Florida” we flew to New York for the ceremony. One of the other recipients was Peter Luger’s Steak House. I met one of the daughter’s of the Storch family that owns it. Her name is Jody and she graciously invited us to come next time we were in town. So we did.

Frankly I was very surprised by the working class like austerity of the décor. I was way overdressed in the three piece suit look I thought was going to be status quo for a steak house in Gotham. The tables were bare, wooden rectangles. Our waiter brought us caraway rolls with cold chunks of butter. He also brought out a bottle of a beautiful California Cabernet  … compliments of the family.

We ordered tomato and red onion salad, shrimp cocktail (with extra horseradish automatically served along side) and the famous hash browns. We also ordered “Steak for Three”.

Writer Bee Wilson penned a piece on our amazing olfactory system. As the steaks arrived sizzling from the 1,000 degree broilers her words came back to me. She wrote,

“A couple of years ago, I interviewed a 9-year-old girl called Abi who was born with no sense of smell, a condition called congenital anosmia.  Abi told me that she’d always wished she knew what bacon smelled like, because grown-ups talked about it so much.  Abi had never smelled cinnamon or oranges, stinky cheese or her mom’s freshly baked banana bread.  

Many of us in the modern world have lost the skill of smelling, as shown by the fact that we are so reliant on expiration dates when deciding when food has gone bad.  A study published earlier this year by the biologist Asifa Majid found that modern Westerners have a feeble sense of smell compared with hunter gatherers in the Malay peninsula.  Dr. Majid has written that hunter gatherers find “odors as easy to talk about as colors, yet for your average Westerner our olfactory life goes past unnoticed and unremarked.”

The steaks brought colors of a palette of emotion that would take a painter like Jackson Pollock. 

Jody came out from her office deep within Peter Lugar’s building. She told us of how her grandfather had purchased the place in 1950. As we spoke, a parade of various service staff members began bringing in tray after tray of raw, cut steaks into the kitchen from a van out in the parking lot. Jody told me they went through, (get this!) ten TONS of beef a week! 

Her grandfather was still alive at 92 and ate steak twice a day every day. When I tasted it I knew why he was still here. 

The steaks couldn’t get any better in heaven.

I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my Word on Food ©.

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© 2018 Norman Van Aken

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