It’s almost impossible to get an honest review of Peter Luger. People in New York are loyal to steakhouses the way they’re loyal to the Yankees or the Mets. Once you’ve decided which team to root for, it doesn’t matter whether they’re having a winning season or a losing one: You’ll say it’s the best, and nothing can change your mind.
Even if you’ve never been, you go into Luger with certain expectations. This restaurant has been in operation since 1887, and there’s over a century’s worth of lore and mythos attached to a meal here. You probably know, for example, that the service is brusque to the point of being almost outright rude. You know that the porterhouse is the thing to get, that the bacon is extra-thick, that there’s a big ice cream sundae at the end, along with a mountain of schlag and what is essentially hanukkah gelt repackaged as marketing materials.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you love Peter Luger before you even get to the restaurant. It’s steak and bacon and ice cream. What’s not to love?
A lot, it turns out.
The porterhouse, supposedly the entire reason to come to this restaurant, is unevenly cooked and so lacking in flavor that you’ll find yourself making liberal use of the salt shaker. The creamed spinach seems to consist of boiled, unseasoned spinach run through a food processor, no cream in sight. Even the hot fudge sundae, which should be an easy win, is downright deplorable: There’s hardly any ice cream, for one, and the schlag is so over-whipped that there are detectable butter solids. And the hot fudge sauce? It's cold.
At the end of our most recent meal here, we knew one thing for sure: This is no longer a restaurant worthy of an 8.9. After a good night’s sleep and some critical distance, a fellow staff writer sent me a Slack message: “It almost feels like Peter Luger is a good friend from college who I used to do everything with but haven't seen in 10 years, and now we have nothing to talk about.”
It’s easy to make excuses for old friends. You have fond memories of the good times, and you want to believe that the good times will come again. But sometimes, they just don’t. You find that you’ve outgrown one another, or that your old pal Peter maybe wasn’t such a great pal after all. So you move on to more mature friends and better, more flavorful porterhouses. This city has no shortage of either.
First of all, it’s not even a wedge. We’re not saying that’s automatically an issue, but there is something satisfying and primal about an actual wedge of iceberg lettuce. This is a sad, strange pile, with an excessive pool of dressing concentrated in the middle and a heap of bacon, tomatoes, and blue cheese. It feels less like a salad than a sad buffet piled haphazardly on a plate.
This is one of the better things on the menu, but if you like your bacon any other way than thick and floppy with random streaks of char, you probably won’t like it very much.
Sliced Tomatoes & Onions with Luger’s Own Sauce
Literally a plate of raw sliced tomato and onions. This was very good on a recent visit, but it’s because we ate here in August, and if you serve a raw tomato in New York City in August that does not taste good, you have bigger problems. It does, however, cost around $17. We could buy a lot of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market for that price.
If you like steak in general, you’re not going to say that the porterhouse here is actively bad. It’s not, in the sense that you won’t want to spit it out or anything. But it lacks almost any flavor or seasoning and is unevenly cooked. A good porterhouse should make you want to keep eating it well past the point of feeling full. A bite or two of this is more than enough.
We like to see and taste both cream and spinach in creamed spinach. This looks and tastes like boiled spinach that has been denied salt and pepper and was simply run through a food processor.
German Fried Potatoes
Do you like diner home fries? These are the same thing. They taste good with the house sauce, a combination of ketchup and horseradish that is a totally fine all-purpose condiment.
Overcooked and underseasoned about says it all. The best part about this dish is the pool of sizzling lamb drippings on the plate, which is good for moistening the very dry bread they give you.
A hot fudge sundae should be a guaranteed strong finish, an easy win. And yet, Luger manages to fall short here, too. The giant parfait glass seems to have maybe a spoonful or two of ice cream in the bottom. This is topped by maybe six inches of schlag so overwhipped it's basically fluffy butter, some disappointingly cold fudge sauce, and a cherry.