Man vs. Beast at Keens Chophouse

June 8, 2006 | By | COMMENTS

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Craig calls from work at 7 o’clock on Friday night and asks me what the plan is.

“How do you feel about mutton?” I ask.

There is a pause. “Mutton?” he replies.

“Yes,” I say. “How do you feel about eating mutton?”

Dating me requires patience, skill and tolerance for outlandish eating ideas. It took me a while to convince Craig that this idea wasn’t quite so outlandish. “Frank Bruni just wrote about the mutton at this place Keen’s Steakhouse a few months ago,” I explain.

“Who’s Frank Bruni?” he asks.

Some people can’t be helped. But alas, after much negotiating, I convince Craig to join me for a meaty mutton meal two blocks north of Macy’s: a ten block journey through the rain. This is our story.

Entering Keens at 9 o’clock on a Friday night is like walking into a parallel universe: David Lynch meets the Cohen brothers by way of Teddy Roosevelt. Take a look for yourself:

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Study that picture for a second and you’ll notice something funny on the ceiling. Now Frank Bruni’s review mentioned that the ceiling was filled with pipes but I took that to mean plumbing pipes. So did Craig for that matter (I briefed him before we arrived.)

“I didn’t realize they were smoking pipes you were talking about,” he said.

I shot a picture overhead after the host led us to our table.

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The menu explains the pipe situation on the back. Keens used to be a pipe-smoking club. And speaking of Teddy Roosevelt, he was a member. So were other VIPs of the day. In the early 20th century a woman sued for admission and she won her case. Keens has a long, fascinating history. It also has free carrots, celery and bleu cheese dip. Plus bread.

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“This place is cool,” says Craig.

A waiter approaches and asks us what we want to drink. Here’s where Craig proves his worth.

“I’ll have a Manhattan,” he says. Could there be a more appropriate drink for a place like this? I bow to his ingenious drink ordering.

“I’ll have one too,” I say.

[Incidentally, I got into an argument with Craig's best friend and writing partner, Mark, over what goes into a Manhattan. Mark insisted that worcestershire sauce was an ingredient; I insisted it wasn't. We happened to be at a bar during this debate and so we asked our waitress. She said Mark was right. I bow to his knowledge of what goes into a Manhattan.]

Speaking of Manhattans, here’s Craig with his:

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This picture allows you to observe some of the posters that adorn the walls of Keens Steakhouse. Before it was a steakhouse or a pipe club (I’m getting lots of this history wrong) it was also a theater. The posters behind us, actually, were for Minstrel shows. We found that interesting.

[Also note the octopi on Craig's shirt. Craig likes octopi.]

To begin the meal, I ordered a classic steakhouse salad of tomatoes, onions and bleu cheese.

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The tomatoes weren’t the freshest I’ve ever tasted, but the onion was nicely de-intensified (was it soaked) and the bleu cheese and vinegar on top helped fuse everything together.

Craig had a Caesar salad. He was happy.

And then they came. The two mutton chops we ordered–for that’s what you order at Keens Chophouse: mutton chops. Their website quotes one of my favorite food writers, Jonathan Gold. He says: ““Keens’s gigantic mutton chop is still a magnificent piece of meat…Some culinary relics are worth holding on to.” And Frank Bruni writes in his review: “The mutton chop at Keens, a 26-ounce saddle of lamb, skirted with fat and nearly two inches tall, can wear whatever label it pleases, because it provides about as much pleasure as a carnivore could want.”

Here’s what Craig had to say as the mutton chop approached our table. “Holy shit.”

This is what was placed down before each of us:

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As one of the commenters wrote of this picture on Flickr: “Damn, that much meat at one time can’t possibly be good for you.”

True, but who says the good things in life have to be good for you? Craig and I immediately begin digging in. The curvy piece you see on the right is almost all pure fat: but crispy and studded with meat. It is heavenly.

As we get closer to the middle bone, the meat gets leaner but no less juicy or flavorful.

“Wow,” says Craig. “This is killer.”

“Yes,” I agree, chewing like a carnivorous dinosaur or Tony Soprano.

There is a perfunctory side of hashbrowns sitting in the middle of the table, but they’re like Lindsay Lohan in a movie with Meryl Streep, Kevin Klein and Lily Tomlin. (“A Prairie Home Companion”: coming soon to a theater near you!)

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Craig and I continue to carve, chew, gnaw and ravish the beast that’s been placed before us. Craig is clearly winning the “get the most meat out of it” game. “I’m a really good carver,” he says. “That’s the one thing I’m good at in the kitchen.”

You can see evidence of this by the little meat that remains on his plate:

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“Ok,” you might be thinking. “I thought he was insane for going to eat mutton on a Friday night with his boyfriend, but now that I’ve read all about it, it sounds like a fun experience. I respect this Amateur Gourmet. He ain’t no fool.”

Oh, I beg to differ. For is it not a fool who eats a 26-oz plate of mutton and then insists on dessert? Because I am that fool. It’s partly the waiters fault. He talked up the bread pudding so I ordered it.

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It tasted excellent but after only one bite I felt like death.

“Have some,” I ordered Craig.

“No way,” he replied. “I’m done for.”

He did, though, join in me in ordering decaf to accompany the bread pudding. I mention this because later in the night, at approximately 2 am, we were still wired and fully awake. The moral of that story is we don’t think they gave us decaf.

How doth we conclude this post of Keens Chophouse? Do we recommend it? Of course we do. If you like meat and historical New York dining establishments, you have no reason not to give Keens a try. Well, there might be one reason not to give Keens a try and it kind of took both Craig and I by surprise: money. I knew the mutton chops were $38 each (yes, I know, you can buy quite a lot for $38: but how often do you get to eat world class mutton chops?) What took us by surprise was how much everything else added up to be. But no matter. It was a memorable night for both of us. And everybody needs a few of those now and then, don’t they? Here’s to more mutton.

Categories: Manhattan, Midtown, New York, Restaurant Reviews

  • http://dirtpusher.blogspot.com Judith in Umbria

    I want it. I will not be in NY for a long time and still I want it. Why oh why is mutton so rarely found?

    Anyway, no sides, got that tip. Plus I make better and crispier potatoes and with roquefort melting on top, too.

    Just in case you come our way, in Italy mutton flavor can be had under the name castrato– if that doesn’t put you off. Translated scene at supermarket:

    Me: Castrato of what?

    Housewives: silence

    Me: But what did they castrate to get

    this meat?

    Housewives: stares and silence

    Me: WHAT IS IT?

    Passing male: Sheep.

  • http://www.thecookingcritic.com Christine

    I think I read somewhere that decaf isn’t completely without caffeine, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. I avoid it in the evenings all the same.

  • chris

    Is that bread pudding with rum sauce? I love rum sauce…or maybe I just love rum.

  • http://ilfornaio.blogspot.com Carly

    Where I used to work, we only served decaf, no matter what they ordered, just in an effort to bring down the confusion of our complex dessert menu.

    But still, every night, someone would send it back telling me that it was regular, that they could just SMELL it.

  • http://somethinktochewon.blogspot.com/ Harlan

    A Manhattan does decidedly NOT have worchestershire sauce! A classic Manhattan is two parts rye (or bourbon), one part sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters, shaken and strained into a martini glass, with a cherry. (I prefer mine on the rocks.) Now, there may be a perfectly good variation of a Manhattan with worchestershire sauce, but it’s not the classic recipe.

    That mutton looks pretty tasty. Are you going to try to roast your own mutton at home now? Probably cheaper than $38/serving (plus tax and tip)!

  • Bob

    Harlan is correct, no worcestershire in a Manhattan… Bloody Mary and Chex Mix- yes, Manhattan- no. Perhaps they were thinking bitters… both are dark in color and are typically packaged in small bottles for bar use.

  • http://www.technocutie.com Emily Jean

    The lambchops at Keens are also to die for. And Craig is v. cute!

  • Kelly

    Yes, Christine you are right that decaf coffee still has caffiene in it. Here’s the kicker. The U.S. will only consider coffee 95% decaffienated decaf. I work in a cafe, and our decaf is 99.9% decaf. Hamburg, Germany has the strictest decaf process in the world which is where we get ours done.

  • Raindog

    As a long-time NYC saloon bartender, allow me to add my voice to the chorus and insist that there is, in fact, no Worcestershire in a Manhattan.

  • http://www.AcmeInstantFood.blogspot.com Kevin

    Worcestershire, mutton and octopi–oh my!

    Your Lindsay / potatoes comment … I don’t know even what to say except that I LOVE you. Don’t worry Craig, I don’t mean it like that. I just really, really, get you.

  • Lara

    I have to say, I too was pretty impressed with Craig’s perfectly suited cocktail order, that was until I saw the picture! A Manhattan “up” ????? In that place? Teddy Roosevelt had to be rolling over in his grave. A manhattan belongs on ice, in a thick glassed high ball (or whatever you call those glasses). I am shocked at Keens. BTW – I find that a huge meal where I am so stuffed I am sick (plus a few cocktails and wine) often times causes me to be wired and not be able to sleep. Its the mix of all that sugar and alcohol and possibly caffeine that does you in.

  • Emily

    THANK YOU Adam for mentioning what has been clawing at my skin lately. What is the deal with Lindsay Lohan in “A Prairie Home Companion” anyway? And, why would

    “APHC” be made into a movie in the first place? Everytime I heard the commercial for it on NPR I start to itch my ear like there’s a worm burrowing inside my head. Can anyone enlighten us?

  • http://www.restaurantwidow.com/ Lisa the Waitress

    Craig is cute!! I guess I’m too shallow to post about the food at the moment…

    Ah, people and their cocktails. I, too, have never heard of Worcestershire in a Manhattan and have bartended for years. I thought I heard everyone’s quirky drink pet peeves. Was your server old enough to drink one?

  • Zoe

    we want to hear more about craig!

  • Don Belling

    I love Keens. Their steaks are pretty killer as well. And the trivia quiz in the bar and the old Metropolitan Life company holiday dinner photos from the 1920s are fun to look at.

  • -ed

    Worcershire in a Manhattan…were both of you smoking crack while drinking it? Seriously, you would definitely taste that, and it would absolutley ruin a Manhattan.

  • Nancy

    Craig is very cute – be careful that you don’t ruin your waistline with these huge meals. Still, great meals, great descriptions and a great sense of humor and a cat named Lolita! Man, you rock!

  • Dweezifish

    You’re gay?

  • pooby

    what, you didn’t know?

  • Kristi

    Damn, that’s a Fred Flintstone-esque slab of meat if I’ve ever seen one. Come to mama!

  • Lili

    Well, that is one nice slab of meat (and the mutton looks good too). Kidding, but Craig’s a cutie.

    I had to stop twitching about the idea of a Manhattan, with worcestershire sauce in it…it sounds like a dare. you guys owe it to yourselves to go get a real Manhattan, at some point.

  • chris

    My dad worked in NYC and always liked mutton chops, it took me many decades to grow up, and to go to NYC and learn about Keene’s. Then I had one of those wonderful chops, wow was it great! Now I’m searching for lamb saddle, and mutton, often – but they’re not easy to find. Let’s hope that changes.

  • http://tokyoastrogirl.blogspot.com/ tokyoastrogirl

    “Who’s Frank Bruni?” he asks.

    Some people can’t be helped.

    You’re cracking me up:)

    Great post. Big meat.

  • http://guiltycarnivore.com The Guilty Carnivore

    I’m reluctantly straight, but I’m willing to learn if it increases my chances of being wined-and-dined at old-school chophouses and garners drooling affections from your female commentors.

  • Joey

    The waitress didn’t know what she was talking about. No worchestershire sauce in Manhattans…. and making such a mistake *IN* Manhattan, no less…

  • cait

    craig is really cute.

    also, although this is sort of a weird question, do you exercise at all? some of the meals you eat seem to hold as many calories as i eat in a day, but then in all of your pictures you look pretty fit….hmmm

  • http://www.fromourkitchen.blogspot.com From Our Kitchen

    Mutton always reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry stuffs it all in the napkins and then into his coat and the dogs follow Elaine home. Great show… And great post!

  • http://www.absquatulate.com K

    Oh heavens, the Manhattan is my cocktail of choice and everyone above is right; NO Worcestershire sauce! I’m guessing she got the bottles confused.

    I’ve been offered Manhattans both ways, straight up and over ice (one time I was charged MORE for a Manhattan on the rocks! I vowed never to go there again.) Straight up and it’s a power punch, but I prefer it over ice to mingle the flavors a bit. The question is did they really make it with rye, or with whiskey?

    And that mutton chop looks TO DIE FOR. I adore mutton and if I’m ever in NYC I’ll keep that place in mind.

  • misssy

    Yeah I think we just realized he is a gay.

  • http://www.bakerina.com Bakerina

    Well, that’s all well and good, but how was the bread? ;)

    Seriously, it sounds like a grand night out, even with the accompanying sticker shock that comes with sides at a steakhouse. The only time I’ve ever had mutton has been in Indian stews, so your mutton chop adventure was not only good reading, it was educational for me, too. Did you find the meat at all gamy?

    (Hi, Craig!)

  • http://itchymicchi.diaryland.com Delurked

    *echoes comments about the meat*

    obligatory comment about Craig – he looks like Damon Albarn to me (erm…)!

  • zeep

    ok, just for the record, has anyone mentioned that there is no Worcestershire in a Manhattan?

    hehehe….

  • http://julesj66.blogspot.com julesj66

    Finally – a picture of Keens’ Mutton Chop! I’ve always ordered the lamb chops, but tonight is New Years Eve & after seeing your photo – I’m going for it!

  • dasein68

    While it is in fact true that a classic Manhattan has no Worcestershire sauce… I have had a “manhattan” with said sauce and I will assure you that it most certainly DOES NOT ruin the drink. In fact, it was the best one I’ve had. It was enjoyed at Angel Share, on Stuyvesant St. in NYC. My friend who turned me on to this drink wrote:

    “Mine is most definitely the manhattan (Maker’s Mark on the rocks), served at that classic hidden gem, Angel Share, on Stuyvesant St., near St. Marks. I was turned on to it by Gerry Hundt (www.steadygroove.com).

    The key is the use of dry Vermouth and a touch of Worcestershire. And yes. A real wild cherry- not sweetened by anything other than the Whiskey it sits in for the beautiful hour it takes to drink the damn thing.

    To the wise: Angel Share has changed management; Winston (yes, Winston), and the boys who make those amazing concoctions are now at their new bar, B Flat, in Tribeca. I haven’t been, yet, but I can’t wait!”

  • michael james

    sitting in kitchen in connecticut, visiting my 93 year old mom, and she brings up keene’s chop house and all the pipes smoked by her husband hal james and father in law roy james from chicagowhyedn in chicago, visit the heartland cafe, good wholesome food for mind and body

  • Robin Salvadori Allison

    My parents drank Manhattans every NY eve my entire life, never with ice. I have ordered them in restaurants in NJ and VA, and never gotten one with ice (though I’ve had to tell the barkeep how to make it on occasion in VA). They go in an old fashion glass, not a highball glass.