In a zero-star review, The New York Times’ chief restaurant critic Pete Wells panned Peter Luger, one of the city’s oldest and most recognized steakhouses.
While this Williamsburg landmark continues to be a bucket-list restaurant for many, its reputation is controversial. Some diners adore its old-school charm and crotchety servers while others have found the long waits insufferable and the steaks disappointing, especially given the price tag (a porterhouse for four is nearly $230).
Today’s takedown brought out fans and foes alike in New York and across the country. For many diners, however, the searing review was no surprise because Peter Luger’s legendary status elevated it as a destination whether the food met the hype or not.
Wells’ review starts off with nostalgia for the Peter Luger he once loved before ticking off a litany of reasons why it’s slipped, from rude service to burgers that came out of the kitchen in various shades of brown, gray and red on various visits. (Full disclosure: I was a former intern and contributing writer for The Times’ Food section for several years.)
Some of Wells’ best zingers below:
"And after I’ve paid, there is the unshakable sense that I’ve been scammed."
"The Department of Motor Vehicles is a block party compared with the line at Peter Luger."
"Some things are the same as ever. The shrimp cocktail has always tasted like cold latex dipped in ketchup and horseradish. The steak sauce has always tasted like the same ketchup and horseradish fortified by corn syrup."
Not all New Yorkers agreed with Wells. Gina Novak, Associate Director of Career Services at the International Culinary Center, has been dining at Peter Luger once or twice a year since the early '80s, and says she was there in June and “the potatoes were just like they were in 1984. Perfect and they keep you coming back.”
Like many fans, Novak calls the steakhouse an NYC treasure and was shocked by the review. “It’s like they killed Santa Claus,” she says.
“I predicted this for a long time,” says Pat LaFrieda, whose family business Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors supplies meat to restaurants from Shake Shack to fine-dining establishments across the city. “They have a great marketing campaign, but at a certain point, that’s got to end. You have to be able to deliver an exciting meal.”
LaFrieda, who turned down the restaurant the first time they tried to order from him but has supplied steaks to them at times, recalls dining at Peter Luger about 15 years ago for the first time. He brought four clients and racked up a bill pushing $2,000 before realizing the restaurant only took cash. (It now accepts debit cards and Peter Luger charge cards.) He came back two more times and says, “I was less impressed each time.”
But perhaps the bigger question is: Are steakhouses even relevant today? Some argue that these meat-centric restaurants feel outdated and even describe them as an old boys club. New Yorkers have also demanded menus that go beyond steak and potatoes. Our own Associate Food & Drink Editor Emma Orlow weighs in: “Why should we even care that Luger got zero stars? It’s not surprising that the vegetables are overpriced and an afterthought, either. Steakhouses are remnants of a bygone era—New York’s food scene is way more diverse and interesting than these so-called mythologized restaurants. Also, the future of the food world is plant-based. It’s not some colossal loss.”
If you’re with Wells on the Peter Luger takedown, we don’t mind suggesting other steak options at restaurants featured in Time Out New York’s revamped EAT List, including:
- #4 Via Carota: svizzerina (a hand-chopped, grass-fed steak)
- #10 Don Angie: prime rib braciole for two
- #18 Lilia: grilled lamb leg steak with Roman spices, fennel and celery; grilled veal flank with hot peppers and basil
- #20 Thursday Kitchen: steak with soy-garlic glaze, feta grits sauteed kale
- #50 Momofuku Ssam Bar: 28-day dry aged strip loin steak
- #55 Cote: You can’t go wrong ordering Korean barbecue here.