What Makes A Great Steakhouse

1. It must be dark, like you’re underground. The consumption of red meat is such a primal, bodily act that darkness–like darkness in the bedroom–opens one up to experience pleasure with reckless abandon.

2. There must be a piano player with a bad toupee singing Neil Diamond songs or a cheesy duo of guitar player and female lounge singer doing their best cover of K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Even Edmund White, in his classic “A Boy’s Own Story,” describes such a figure when his family takes him to a steakhouse, “a place where the overweight ate iceberg lettuce under a dressing of ketchup and mayonnaise, steaks under A.1. sauce, feed corn under butter, ice cream under chocolate, where a man wearing a black toupee and a madras sports jacket bounced merrily up and down an electric organ while a frisky couple lunged and dipped before him in cloudy recollections of ancient dance steps.”

3. There must a bountiful bread basket, such as the basket seen here:


In this basket–delivered, as it was, on Saturday night at Chops Lobster Bar (which is definitely a steakhouse, not a lobster bar) In Boca Raton, Florida as my family celebrated my 30th birthday a week early–one will find delectable onion rolls, still hot from the oven, and raisin bread just begging to be slathered with butter.

4. Your waiter must not only write down your orders quickly and expertly, but if you’re a regular he should know your drink order by heart. He should have patience with your grandmother when she orders her iced tea with “very little ice, but cold–very cold,” and he should be able to recommend a favorite wine. Such is the case with Mo, who’s been waiting on my family at steakhouses in Boca for more than 10 years: here he is with mom and dad.


Mo’s such a great guy, he brought me a glass of his favorite Merlot to go with my steak as a 30th birthday gift. It was terrific:


Thanks, Mo.

5. There must be a wedge salad: essentially, a wedge of iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and blue cheese dressing and, if possible, bacon:


To eat this is an exercise in debauchery, but a good kind of debauchery. The kind of debauchery you don’t account for when trying to convince yourself you eat pretty healthy; the kind of debauchery that has to take place in a dark room, which is why they serve it, mostly, at a steakhouse.

6. There must be sides–outrageous sides–piles of fried potatoes and bowls full of creamed corn.


There you see, at 9 o’clock, what looks like a hashbrown pancake: shredded potatoes bound together and fried into an enormous pancake, topped with Parmesan. At 6 o’clock the obligatory vegetable: buttery, buttery string beans. (Ignore the butter: it’s healthy, I promise.) Then another vegetable that’s so decadent and indulgent, it can’t really be a vegetable can it? No, it’s not: it’s creamed corn, a category unto itself. At 12 o’clock some more fried potatoes and dead center the fixings for my brother and his fiance’s baked potato, which they shared. Such behavior is rarely encouraged at a steakhouse.

7. And, of course, there must be steak–a juicy, sizzling, hunk of meat presented austerely on a white plate:


That, there, is a petite filet migneon which, for me, was plenty. Notice the charred crust–it almost looks burned–but that’s partially the point: an ultra-high heat ensures maximum caramelization, which provides both texture and flavor. And it’s incredibly well seasoned: just the right amount of salty. When you cut in, it should ideally be pinkish red; anyone who loves steak orders it that way. If you order it well done, please don’t tell me. I won’t think of you the same way.

8. There must be, without exception, chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream for dessert:


The chocolate cake should ooze a bit in the middle and be served hot. If it’s your birthday, they should put a candle in it. And if they really like you, they should also bring you a cheesecake:


9. All this food will send you into a deeply contemplative state, as exhibited here by my brother:


Therefore, the coffee must be very hot and very strong. It’s the last note of the evening and must be pitch perfect; great steakhouses don’t skimp on coffee.

10. Finally, you should leave full in a deep way, the way you might feel, for example, after reading a 1,000 page novel. A great steakhouse isn’t “Charlotte’s Web,” it’s “Anna Karenina.” If someone takes your picture at the end of the meal, you should radiate warmth and good cheer, as I demonstrate here:


Perhaps I am contemplating the economic crisis or what I’ll accomplish in the final week of my 20s, but, regardless, I am deeply satisfied, deeply sated while Marilyn Monroe tries to eat my head.

Such is the power of a great steakhouse.

32 thoughts on “What Makes A Great Steakhouse”

  1. Why do you post such things at 10 am? I’m in Memphis and at least an hour away from lunch time. After seeing those photos, I’m now starving! You’ve also made my healthy packed lunch completely unappetizing. :-)

    Happy early birthday!


  2. Well that sounds like a very happy birthday. Gotta love the chocolate swoop on the dessert plate. My 30th is rapidly approaching, I can only hope the day is as much fun as yours was.

  3. You basically nailed everything I like to order when I go to a steakhouse. Those are really the essentials.

    Sometimes I go for a bit larger piece of meat if I’m feeling especially carnivorous.

    Thanks for the write up and happy 30!




  4. I won’t tell you what I think that chocolate swoop really looks like. I don’t want to disturb the rest of this highly appetizing article. But maybe the pastry chef at Chops should reconsider the presentation of this particular dish.

  5. Happy Birthday!

    ALL I want to eat now is an iceberg wedge. And not just any iceberg wedge. THAT iceberg wedge. Which will be difficult since I’m in New York, and hungry right now. sigh.

    what is your favorite steakhouse in NYC?

  6. What fun! I’ve missed a good steak dinner. You’ve got me salivating, now, though. Must. Find. Dark. Steakhouse.

    And I can pretend I’m still 30. :) Happy Birthday.

  7. Oh, that meal is my idea of heaven. I love fine dining of every kind, but sometimes you just want a good steak and the trimmings.

    I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now and this is my first comment!

  8. I must say, I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no picture of the filet once cut into… Almost no one in my family likes their steak as pristinely reddish-pink as I do.

  9. That post made me so hungry. Completely agree with you about how steak should be eaten. When I was growing up my mother was afraid we were all going to die if we ate anything even slightly red. I’m glad I’ve changed her mind about that.

  10. Aww, happy 30th! Glad you could spend a nice birthday dinner with your family at a steakhouse you love. I would have probably ordered the exact same meal, especially the filet and the oozing chocolate cake!

  11. I cannot stop laughing about your grandmother’s iced tea request! Thanks for the afternoon pick-me-up. I always look forward to reading your blog!

  12. haha. what is with dark steakhouses? in omaha all the good ones have this hideous wood paneling. and they always always always serve spaghetti with mariana as one of the sides–in addition to the potatoes, green beans, etc.

    happy 30th! make it the best year yet.

  13. Edmund White and I went to the same high school. I believe he was a boarding student. There were two local steakhouses that would have fit the bill. I wonder which he is describing.

    Sadly they are both gone. The second closed Labor Day weekend 2007 and was torn down December 2007.

    Here’s a link to a video that I presented to the owners the night it closed. Please forgive the quality, I’m strictly amateur!


  14. That’s a pretty good looking filet, but I would say always go for the rib-eye in a steakhouse, but that’s just me….. oh, and what about creamed spinach :)

    30, huh? I remember 30, barely….

  15. Congrats on the birthday. That wedge salad looks delish!

    And congrats on the new server! So much faster! This is my first comment posting since the move; I will be interested to see if it posts in a reasonable amount of time. I used to just give up on the old site.

  16. James in Beijing

    I base my expectations of a steak house on what they do at Peter Luger (my absolute fave). Among the keys therefore are the absence of a menu (woe betide the waiter who does not know me ad offers me one, thinking I’m a tourist), a shrimp cocktail starter, a “salad” of slices of enormous tomatoes and mild onions slathered with their steak sauce, and hash browns and creamed spinach as sides. As for the dessert, the only possibility is pecan pie. Oh, and no music!! Other than that, you were spot on…!

  17. Those pictures of the table full of many side dishes reminded me of Jamil’s Steakhouse with locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Except at Jamil’s it’s all about the appetizers, which are included with each entree order:

    1. A bowl of tabouli

    2. Hummus & pita bread for the table

    3. Relish tray for the table

    4. Basket of bread

    5. A Lebanese-style cabbage roll

    6. A smoked rib and a big hunk of smoked baloney

    7. A green tossed salad

    None of these appetizers are small portions. After all that, it’s hard to remember how good the steaks are. Jamil’s gets mixed reviews; people either love it or hate it; but there is no doubt they have the best tabouli and hummus I’ve ever had.

  18. Sounds like a great way to celebrate the 30th birthday. Happy Birthday, Adam.

    My favorite steak house in San Francisco has always been Alfred’s. While they don’t have the huge antipasto platter as in years past, their steaks are wonderful–and some of the standard items are 20 oz NY Steaks, or 20 oz filet mignons.

    And, as several have noted, where is the creamed spinach? I do not know if that is a NY thing, but it is a San Francisco thing.

  19. Happy 30th! Look how much you’ve accomplished before reaching 30… congrats!

    Gotta say my favorite pic is of your brother… cracked me up.

  20. Happy Belated Birthday!! That dinner sure looked yummy. The dessert was beautiful too. I just want to tell you that I really enjoyed reading your book. I read most of it while on the train (gotta love that L train) and I couldn’t get enough. You are sooo friggin’ funny! I love your humor and writing style. Thanks for your book suggestions too.

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