NYC — Summer 2015: Keens Steakhouse

Thursday, September 17, 2015
For our last dinner in NYC, we decided to go somewhere quintessentially New York: Keens Steakhouse. It's been around for 130 years, and is always listed as one of the Top 10 steakhouses in NYC, and is even considered to be one of the best steakhouses in US. Inside, it's charmingly nostalgic, full of antique collectibles and memorabilia from the last century, and houses the largest collection of smoking pipes in the world (owned by Keens customers who stowed and used them in the restaurant back when they had a "pipe club," and included members such as Babe Ruth and Theodore Roosevelt). It makes for an atmosphere that is simultaneously cozy and kooky, like a combination of a museum, a cottage, and a fraternity house. Sounds weird, but it works.

Chopped Twelve Ingredients Salad

Before you even order, a server will place not only a basket of bread, but also a plate of carrot and celery sticks, olives, and blue cheese dressing at your table. It's like they know you're hungry and just bread won't suffice. (And in case it gets too busy and the wait time for food lengthens, you still have things to munch on so you won't get hangry. Smart, Keens, smart.) To start, we decided that it was probably best to get something relatively healthy, so we chose the Chopped Twelve Ingredients Salad rather than the classic Caesar (which in retrospect, might have made this meal feel too heavy and salty). Though it looks pretty basic (one might even say "boring"), it's one of the most unique salads I've had in a while; I'm not sure which exact 12 ingredients they use, but it does include beets, dried fruits, lettuce, and candied walnuts. Though it's available all year round, it really makes for a beautiful summer salad. It's equal parts sweet and tart, and crisp and refreshing — truly, the perfect salad to whet your appetite.

Maryland Crab Cakes

We chose the Maryland crab cakes as our appetizer, which were so noteworthy that my mom was raving about them even the next day (this is a true rarity as it takes quite a lot to impress her, food-wise). A lot of steakhouses take pride in their crab cakes, but I've never really had ones quite like these. The crab cakes here are no-nonsense and it's in this simplicity that makes these stand out; the crab meat is in serious abundance here (there's none of this seafood or breadcrumb filler crap) and it's lightly seasoned so that the crab flavour isn't overwhelmed. It is lightly battered and fried to a perfect golden crisp, and it's just the perfect ratio to the crab meat inside (a lot of places make the rookie mistake of adding too much batter, so you almost don't taste the crab meat). No extraneous sauces or condiments; just a squeeze of lemon is all you need. Perfection.

"Legendary" Mutton Chop

Now, I've eaten some delicious steaks in NYC, but my brother told me that he found his new favourite steak in all of NYC at Keens Steakhouse, and that it wasn't really a steak at all. It's their "legendary" mutton chop (which, since sometime after World War II, is lamb saddle rather than actual mutton). It has been described as "one of the best pieces of meat your mouth will ever have the privilege of tasting." And so it is. At a whopping 26 ounces, it is incredibly juicy, ultra tender, and gloriously fatty. Mint jelly comes on the side, but I found it to be totally redundant as there is no gamey taste to the meat. I mean, if you like mint jelly, by all means, add it. But I am a purist at heart, and I feel like it's sacrilege to taint such a beautiful slab of meat with condiments. The New York Times has said, "Call it near-mutton. Call it extreme lamb. Go ahead and call it legendary. In more ways than one, it warrants that tag."

Creamed spinach

Now anyone who has gone to a true New York steakhouse will know that side dishes are extra and separate from the meats. And without fail, I always have to order the creamed spinach. For some reason, this side isn't common at all here in Toronto, but it's offered in every steakhouse in NYC. What I actually like about the creamed spinach at Keens is that it's not overly creamy. I've never had bad creamed spinach, per se, but there are definitely versions that almost feel like you're eating pure fat. (It's like with mashed potatoes; some versions are overly smooth, and others still have chunks of potato.) But the version here actually tastes and feels like — gasp! — spinach. It almost makes it seem healthier, even though, realistically, you're still eating a crap ton of butter. (It's always worth it.) You might want to order potatoes (and Keens has five types), but I would strongly advise against it because you won't be able to finish it all. Why would you waste your stomach space with starchy filler sides when there is so much more deliciousness to be consumed?

One thing I have to note: the service here is impeccable. New York steakhouses are never known for their service, and most steakhouse servers are gruff, curt, and impatient. And judgemental, too (if you don't order alcohol, it's as if you've committed a crime). But the ones at Keens are nice and polite and attentive and actually smile. They will answer your questions thoughtfully, and will always wait for a pause in your conversation to refill water or clear the table. They never hover, but are never too far away that you feel ignored, and that is quite a feat because Keens is made up of several different dining rooms so servers are continually walking in and out. This was a truly memorable dining experience and definitely the best I've had at a New York steakhouse. 

Keens Steakhouse
72 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018
(212) 947-3636
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