By STEPHANIE LYNESS, December 2, 2007
Every year about this time, I suffer the same disappointment. It’s called winter, and somehow it always comes as a surprise.
One of the few compensations I’ve discovered for the onset of this dark, frosty season is the anticipation of cold-weather eating — indulging in foods too nourishing to eat too often, preferably in the company of an excellent red wine.
Joseph’s Steakhouse, a white-tablecloth restaurant in Bridgeport, provides as handsome an environment as you could wish for such meals, including gargantuan portions of high-quality meat and a multipage wine list.
Part of the appeal of Joseph’s is that it is terrifically comfortable. All straight lines, dark wood and masculine simplicity, the décor doesn’t compete with the meat. The chairs are comfortable. It feels spacious, even when packed.
And the waiters are wonderfully down to earth. As I pointed to a bottle of Croatian wine on the menu — one of few under $40 — our waiter looked me in the eye and said: “Don’t order it. You won’t like it. Customers complain.”
Joseph is Joseph Kustra, originally from Croatia. Mr. Kustra worked for 15 years at Peter Luger in Brooklyn, first as a waiter and then as maitre d’. His restaurant, like Peter Luger, sells U.S. prime quality, dry-aged beef. (Our young waiter said Joseph’s buys from Peter Luger’s purveyor.) The menu has sirloin, porterhouse, T-bone, rib eye and filet mignon, as well as veal and lamb chops, lobster, salmon and chicken.
A porterhouse costs $52.75 ($73.50 for two); the sirloin is $36.75. Porterhouse is traditionally my favorite, but tasting it against the rib eye ($33.95), I was surprised to find that I preferred the latter; it melted in my mouth. Loin lamb chops (like miniature T-bones, with a little piece of filet attached) were very good, as was the veal chop, cut extra thick.
All the meats I tasted were beautifully cooked, the exteriors bronzed, fat still sizzling. Steaks were presented as they are at Peter Luger: solo (no vegetable garnish), the meat cut off the bone, thickly sliced to show the brilliant red interior, then plated with the bone. The steak sauce, plunked down with a basket of breads at the start of the meal, is a sweet, tomatoey concoction that tasted like cocktail sauce with a kick.
Chops were served with two vegetable sides, which were also available à la carte. Mashed potatoes were American, not French, which is to say they tasted of potato, not butter. Creamed spinach was bright green, and not overly creamy. Onions, listed as French fried on the menu, were in fact sautéed, not deep fried, but they were nonetheless sweet and well seasoned. Sautéed mushrooms needed more color and French fries were just O.K. — the home fries might have been a better choice.
As for the appetizers, several were disappointing. The shrimp in the shrimp cocktail were overcooked (unacceptable at $17.95), and all the salad dressings — blue cheese, Russian and Caesar — tasted watered down. Joseph’s special salad, garnished with tomato, basil, bacon and onion, was dressed with the steak sauce, which I found too sweet and strong for the iceberg lettuce. But the stone crab claws were lovely. And the best choice was the generous plate of thickly sliced grilled bacon. Forget the supermarket stuff; this was more lean than fat, with smoke and salt in perfect balance.
I can further recommend every dessert I tried — hot, crisp apple strudel (a little heavy on the cinnamon, but otherwise fabulous); excellent traditional-tasting pecan pie; and a wedge of chocolate mousse cake with chocolate cookie crust — all served with softly whipped cream.
With its no-nonsense character, mahogany bar and neighborhood-guy service, Joseph’s is a fine choice for a winter evening. If porterhouse is your favorite, bring a friend so your bill doesn’t go through the roof.
THE SPACE :Two spacious rooms with high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Mahogany bar to the left of the entrance. Wheelchair access.
THE CROWD : Lively, and casually dressed. Comfortable place for couples, families and groups.
THE BAR : Full bar and pricey wine list (very little under $40).
THE BILL : Dinner entrees, $22.95 to $52.75. All credit cards accepted.
WHAT WE LIKE : Stone-crab claws, grilled bacon; porterhouse, rib eye, veal chop, lamb chops; creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, fried onions; apple strudel, pecan pie, chocolate mousse cake.
IF YOU GO : Lunch: Monday to Friday, noon to 3 p.m. Dinner: Monday to Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended, particularly on Saturday.