In the Pantheon of U.S. steakhouses, Peter Lugar Steakhouse (Brooklyn, New York) is Zeus. In some people’s minds, no menus are needed at the Brooklyn eatery, which opened in 1887 and is rightfully regarded as the finest of its kind in New York, because there is only one rational; choice: porterhouse for two, three or four. The meat is USDA Prime, personally selected by women from the Forman family, which has run the restaurant since buying it from Peter Lugar in 1950. They keep close watch on the meat as they dry-age it. Then it is expertly cooked and lovingly presented on piping-hot plates, sizzling in a simple sauce of butter and beef juices. Add a few thick slices of Canadian bacon, as well as sides of creamed spinach and hash browns, and you have a repast so grand it inspires rhymes worthy of the Muse Erato, especially if savored with a fine red from the wine list.
Like any good deity, Peter Lugar has produced a smattering of progeny. The oldest is Peter Lugar of Long Island, which opened in 1960 and remains the only official offshoot of the Forman’s institution. The family is careful not to dilute the restaurants’ reputation in terms of quality or cachet. The owners say there are no differences between the food served here and the original’s in Brooklyn. The Long Island restaurant looks and feels more fine-dining less German beer hall than its urban cousin. Also, it tends to draw a local crowd that eats earlier than the more cosmopolitan crew that flocks to Brooklyn.
And then there are three area offspring of less pure bloodliness, all creations of onetime Lugar waiters who have clearly drawn inspiration from their former place of work. That does not necessarily make the Forman clan happy, and its members decline to comment on the business ventures of former employees and the competition they produce. But the new (flesh and) blood certainly gives local carnivores plenty of first-rate places to chow down.
Joseph’s Kustra obviously learned what makes a steakhouse great during his 15 years as a waiter at the two Peter Lugar restaurants, and his eatery, Joseph’s Steakhouse, in the gritty Connecticut city of Bridgeport (360 Fairfield Avenue, 203-337-9944) is the best of its kind in the Nutmeg State. Housed in a stately brick building it serves up Lugeresque porterhouse, Canadian bacon and hash browns inn a soothing setting augmented by rich wood paneling and crisp white table clothes. A Croatian immigrant now 63 years old, Kustra freely admits to modeling his restaurant after Luger: “Why not?” he asks. “It is a proven success. Plus, people who eat at steakhouse are the easiest and nicest to take care of, because they know what they want and like.”
Back in the city on the ground floor of what used to be the old Vanderbilt Hotel is Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, on the corner of Park Avenue and 33rd Street in Manhattan. This, too, is a Lugar knockoff, and one of the highest quality. The founder is Wolfgang Zwiener, a former headwaiter who toiled at the original restaurant for 41 years, and judging from the food and drink here, diners must feel as if they have made the trek to Brooklyn. Shrimp and crabmeat cocktail, Canadian bacon and sliced beefsteak tomatoes…and, of course, sumptous porterhouse steak for two, three and four.
The only difference from the archetype across the East River is an interior that has more elegant, midtown feel, especially the vaulted Guastavino tile ceilings.
Last but not least, we come to Paul Grewenig, who set up shop with P.G. Steakhouse in Huntington, Long Island, in the spring of 1985, after a restaurant career that included an eight-year stint as a Lugar waiter. He also followed the Peter Lugar model, even hiring a number of waiters early on to serve his far. Now retired, Grewenig has turned things over to his son Jan and daughter Jeannette, and they prepare their porterhouses in an artfully decorated, two-story house in the Jericho Turnipike. “We strive to buy the highest quality of beef, and that’s what keeps people coming back,: says Jan Grewenig. “People still want to go out for a great steak, and they will spend money for one.”