It's Not That Peter Luger's Is Terrible, It's Just Other Steakhouses Are So Much Better
New York Times Food Critic Pete Wells has a habit of making articles that break the Internet. Or at least the corner of the Internet where people come to be told where to eat, what to eat, and why. His zero star review of Peter Luger Steakhouse might as well have been a review of the Statue of Liberty to New Yorkers: there are just some things you should’t touch. But Pete is a critic at heart, I mean his Twitter avatar is Statler from The Muppets, and Pete’s gonna do what his job requires of him, which is in fact to occasionally say things we know deep down inside to be true. And when he tore into the soul of one of New York City’s most beloved restaurant institutions, it struck a chord. While we aren’t going to publish the exact review word for word or sum it up so you don’t have to sign up a subscription to the New York Times in case you’ve passed your monthly limit, let’s just say he used the steakhouse to make the DMV look good. David Berson, Peter Luger’s current owner, released the following statement to Eater in response to the Times review. I mean he basically had to say something because all of his friends were probably like, “Yo Davey! You gonna let this guy get away with that!”
“The NY Times has reviewed Peter Luger numerous times over the years. At times we’ve gotten four stars, other times less. “While the reviewers and their whims have changed, Lugers has always focused on doing one thing exceptionally well — serving the highest quality of steak — with a member of our family buying every piece of USDA Prime beef individually, just as we have done for decades.”
“We know who we are and have always been. The best steak you can eat. Not the latest kale salad,” he added. “We’re grateful to our customers who continue to pack our house every single day, and especially to our regulars whose emails of encouragement continue to flood our inbox.”
While he doesn’t address the lack of hospitable service or the issues Luger’s kitchen has in producing consistency across its menu items, he does throw shade at kale salad while saying the same thing that has been Luger’s calling card for decades. Luger’s get to hand pick the best steak available, therefore it is the best. But even with a superior product, that just means you should be extra careful as a business not to mess it up. And yet here we are, debating how and why Peter Luger has gotten to this point. Truth be told, they haven’t really changed, save for a recent announcement they are accepting online reservations and that they’ll take debit cards. They also announced last year they’d be expanding to Japan which should be interesting given the meat loving culture there. The food, atmosphere, and decor is what has defined Luger’s for generations, and it’s been good enough to get people to visit Williamsburg way before it was ever trendy. Literally, it would be hard to find a business has done more for that neighborhood or for Brooklyn’s food scene than Luger’s, though we’re sure a places like Nathan’s or L & B Spumoni Gardens might have a solid case.
Luger’s is iconic, but part of the challenge with keeping things unchanged is that other steakhouses have been able to adapt to our changing needs. And to be honest, the best steakhouses find a way to get someone in the room when the best looking beef is up for sale. It’s not like there’s a ticketed line at the deli and Luger’s always happens to be number 001. That’s not how this process works. A variety of steakhouses that have the cash, have created longterm relationships, and are willing to pay top dollar get first crack at the country’s best beef. That’s how that works.
Modern steakhouses have told us that it is possible to get good salads with our steak. We now know it’s possible to mix obscure side dishes with our entree and we’ll be more then okay. And perhaps most comforting, we are no longer afraid to ask the wait staff for a substitution, or that we brought a vegan with us, or that our friend has a problem digesting gluten. The beef at these top steakhouses is still amazing and probably the reason you come, but the sidekicks and atmosphere have just gotten better. We live in a world that is big enough to have more than one kind of steakhouse, and while taking down one that has certainly been overhyped by some (the Zagat Survey literally phones it in and ranks Luger’s as the best steakhouse in NYC every single year), let’s not try to burn down a building that has helped people find camraderie in their arteries since 1887. Come to think of it, maybe a kale salad might be needed after all.