After having a discussion with some food pals about beef marbling scores for Japanese beef, I realized that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the subject. As such, I figured it was time for a more detailed article about this shit. Here goes…
There are three things to understand when it comes to marbling scores:
In many ways quality and marbling overlap each other, since it usually follows that highly marbled beef is also high quality beef. But lets break it down here one at a time.
(1) The A-B-C’s of Yield
I like to think of this as the quantity component, as opposed to quality. A yield rating is a percentage figure that objectively describes the cutability of an animal, or the amount of the animal that can be harvested from a particular area of the carcass.
In particular, this score is determined by carefully measuring shit once a cut is made between the 6th and 7th rib, on the rib eye. The score is assigned after plugging four measurements taken at that cut into a “multiple regression equation.”
The four measurements are: rib eye area; rib thickness; cold left side weight; and subcutaneous fat thickness.
Raters score wagyu as either A, B or C in Japan. A has the highest yield, at 72% or more. B is 69-71%, and this is the most common yield. C is under 69%.
From a business and sales standpoint, it’s better to have higher yields on your animal. So A is better than C in many ways on that angle. For example, a carcass can get knocked down from A to B if the band of outer fat (not the marbling) is too thick, because it lowers the cutability yield (makes the actual rib eye meat smaller). Farmers and ranchers who raise the animals will want to select and breed for good yield traits.
From a consumer’s or diner’s standpoint, however, the yield isn’t, or shouldn’t really be, much of a concern. While a rating of A, B or C makes us instinctively think A is better than C, that would kinda be wrong in this case.
The C grade really just means that, before the meat got to our plate, more of the extrenal fat had to be trimmed away, the rib eye was small, or there was less of that particular cut of meat to harvest from the animal. Or something like that…
Quality grades describe the meat’s marbling, color, brightness, firmness and texture. It also describes fat quality, color and luster. This score is assigned as a value of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest quality and 5 being the highest. A lot of detailed analysis goes into this score.
As you can see, marbling, meat color and brightness, meat firmness and texture, and fat quality, color and luster are all evaluated on separate scales before being plugged into the overall quality score of 1-5. Pretty intense.
Some of the measurements are now starting to be done with cameras and digital image analysis software (like in the US), to more objectively determine the quality scores.
(3) Beef Marbling Standard (BMS)
The beef marbling stardard assigns a score to the meat based on how much intramuscular fat (IMF, or marbling) it has. It is scored from 1-12, with 1 being the least marbling and 12 being the most. Here is what that looks like:
There is definitely some interplay and overlap here with the quality score, as marbling is a factor one must consider when assigning a quality score of 1-5 up above. But the BMS score is much a more specific look at the intramuscular fat. Here is the relationship between quality and BMS:
As you can see, a score of 5 covers a wide range when it comes to the BMS scale. BMS 8 is very different from BMS 12, yet they are both a 5 for quality.
You may be thinking, why the redundancy? Well, as I mentioned in the previous section, the quality also takes meat color, fat color, texture and other variables into account. BMS, again, is purely about the marbling.
Basically the best quality available is A5 BMS 12. The A means that there was very little junk on the animal, and it had a good-sized rib eye. The 5 means it’s the best when assessing all the variables relevant to quality, like color, texture and fat. And the 12 means that it has the most marbling.
But I wouldn’t shy away from B5 or C5 BMS 12 either. Remember the letter grade is more about quantity, at least it seems so to me, anyway. Actually, my sweet spot seems to be around BMS 8 or 9. Anything more than that is like foie gras. It tastes like a completely different protein.
If you’re like me, bread is something you love to eat, but you try your hardest to ignore at restaurants. You don’t want to “fill up on bread” when you’re about to sink your teeth into a massive hunk of delicious beef.
But sometimes the restaurant gets you. The bread is so good that you just can’t fucking resist. I always like to mention the bread in all of my steakhouse reviews, just out of habit. As a result, over time I’ve come to really respect the effort that gets put into this unassuming meal opener. Who does it the best? See below.
1) BLT Prime
Hands down the best, because it’s a double whammy. Not only do they give you a few slices of country style bread with a jar of velvety chicken liver pate, but they also bring out hot, fresh-made cheese popovers with a recipe card for how to make them at home. That’s pretty incredible. I mean, honestly, if you eat all of that, you and your date can go light on the rest of the meal. But why would you? Everything else they serve is fucking great!
2) American Cut
Iron Chef Marc Forgione has created one of the greatest biscuits known to man: the everything biscuit. That’s everything seasoning, as in “everything bagel.” This biscuit has gotten such praise that he even used it as a vehicle for a delicious fried chicken sandwich.
3) Peter Luger
The simplicity of their onion rolls is mind blowing. They’re warm, soft, incredibly aromatic and tasty as all fuck. Go for lunch. Eat the bread basket and dip the rolls into their steak sauce while you wait for one of their incredible burgers to come out. Then wash it all down with some schlag.
4) Quality Italian
There are a lot of great versions of these fresh-made dinner rolls (aka Parker rolls or “pan bread”) floating around in the steakhouse sphere, but no one quite nails it the way Quality Italian does. Similar to monkey bread or pull bread, these babies are perfectly sized bites of buttery, warm, herby, garlicky, soul-fulfilling carbs that will have you craving more and more.
I always have to do something wacky when I make these lists, so I’m including K*Rico’s fried pasta snacks here. They’re spicy and perfectly crisp. Really unique. I’ve never seen this at a steakhouse before, let alone anywhere else for that matter.
NON-BREAD HONORABLE MENTIONS
When you want to say FUCK YOU to bread, check out Keens’ crudite with pickles, Bob’s Steakhouse’s jar of half-sour pickles and red peppers, or Arthur’s Tavern’s tray of pickles and cherry peppers.
Another alternative is Gallagher’s Steakhouse’s homemade potato chips at the bar. They serve bread at the table, so if you want the chips – which are fucking incredible – you have to ask the waiter and be extra nice to get them. Otherwise just be a man and sit at the bar for a bit before you dine. Have a fucking drink.
The Azores are quickly rising in the ranks as a vacation destination for Europeans and Americans. While it is no secret that Portuguese and many Europeans have been visiting for quite some time, the Azores are a relatively recent “discovery” for many Americans.
The Azores are a volcanic archipelago of Portuguese-owned islands in the northern Atlantic, well off the western coasts of Europe and northern Africa. As volcanic islands, they’re very similar to Hawaii in topography and geology, only more temperate and with seasonal changes. There are elevated volcanic crater lakes, hot springs, sequoia forest hikes, waterfalls, gorgeous black sand beaches and incredible mountain and cliff views all over the place.
It’s a short flight to the Azores from Boston (4hrs). My wife and I became obsessed with the idea of going when we saw an episode of one of Bourdain’s shows set on the islands, so over the Summer we took a trip to the Azores (Sao Miguel) with my sister, my brother in law and their kids. Let me give you a run-down of the trip, focusing chiefly, of course, on the food.
Our first stop was in a little coffee shop for some caffeine fuel. Coffee is a big part of the culture here, and lots of people hang out in these little shops for pastries and espresso before work or heading out for the day.
We did some hiking up near a volcanic crater lake.
Yes, these are Giant Sequoias.
After working up a good appetite we ate at Tony’s Restaurant in Furnas, a place that’s known for serving a traditional Azorean meat stew called cozido.
The story is that this stew of meats is cooked in a cauldron that’s heated by lava rocks and/or the source of all the volcanic hot springs in the area. Here’s what the plate looked like:
Like many traditional stews, it contains a variety of meats. This featured a mix of pork belly, sausage, blood sausage, and lean meat. We pretty much ignored the cabbage and potatoes.
We also tried another Azores specialty, limpets.
Limpets are shellfish. They’re often served cooked, and taste like a cross between a mussel, a scallop and a clam, only a little tougher. A mossy vegetation beard grows on their outer shells like mussels, so unless they are scrubbed clean before cooking, they can have a very briny and “right from the sea” flavor (but not in a good way – more like in a stagnant water kind of way). I think I would have liked these better if they had been thoroughly scrubbed and then cooked in butter, garlic and wine, like I do with Little Neck clams, JUST until they pop open so as not to overcook.
Another item that’s popular in the Azores is blood sausage. You saw some up in the cozido, but those were stewed. These were grilled to a delicious crisp and served with grilled pineapple. Absolutely delicious, and who would have guessed those two were such a nice pairing? The sausage was smooth in texture, not grainy, iron-flavored or filled with rubbery chunks of shit meat.
Tony’s also had a great selection of local cheeses. The cheese industry is huge in the Azores. In the countryside you will see tons of cow pastures and dairy operations.
I was really excited to try these, and they were all awesome, especially that farmer’s cheese on the right, which is typically served with a spicy pimento pepper sauce (peri peri).
Oh yeah – we also tried a bunch of Azorean and Portuguese wines. The Azores is known for its “Green Wines.” They’re not a different colored grape in any way. They’re just sourced from a particular area, geographically. The one we tried tasted like young white wine.
Since I generally like reds, I wasn’t a huge fan. I was, however, a big fan of the reds we came across here in the Azores – especially the price point. More on that in a bit…
After dinner we hunted some rainbows that were forming when the sun poked through he rain clouds (up in the mountains there is generally a more overcast and temperate atmosphere, hence the wildly different foliage and vegetation).
We started again at a small coffee shop, this one called Senhora do Pao (a little more common as a chain).
This time we consumed a variety of pastries along with our coffee. This one here, pastel de nata, is an egg custard in a crusty, flaky baked crust.
A croissant style doughnut with chocolate icing and sugar cream filling.
And this was like a chocolate and phyllo sandwich.
This was a beach day though, so we soaked up some rays and drank some refreshing Sagres beers on the shore at Bar Praia de Agua de Alto. Sagres tasted like a Corona or a Bud Light. The Radler is lemon flavored.
We even tried some local gin. Very nice.
On our way home from the beach we stumbled upon a festival going on in one of the hilltop towns called Agua de Pau.
Those were strawberry and pineapple swirls of syrup on the soft serve vanilla. Awesome. But what really got my attention was this:
A vendor selling lupini beans.
What’s so great about a bucket of beans, you ask?
When my siblings and I were kids, our parents used to give us these to snack on. I always thought it was an Italian thing, but when we were in Italy I don’t recall seeing them anywhere (though we didn’t go any further south than Rome). For $0.60 we got the equivalent of what costs about $5 in the US.
They’re disc-shaped and enclosed in a soft shell. You squeeze them to get them out. Then you munch away. They’re soft but with a slight crunchy snap. Usually stored in a brine water, they’re a little salty.
I was so psyched about that.
On this day we went up to a beautiful old volcanic crater that became a lake called Lagoa do Fogo.
So fucking beautiful.
We hiked for a bit in the mountains too, to another hidden lake.
We also visited a tea plantation called Cha Gorreana.
We tried some tea, of course, some more pastries, and the Portuguese equivalent of empanadas. Everything was delicious.
After more driving and sight seeing, we ate at a restaurant near our apartment called Paladares da Quinta.
This was an assorted sausage platter – again featuring blood sausage and pineapple. These were superior to the other ones. So crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Awesome.
We also did some cheeses.
As you can see, the farmers cheese was again served with that pimento sauce.
Garlic bread with herbs.
Octopus stew. We learned pretty quickly that stews are a big part of Azores cuisine.
Pork belly and clam stew. Also delicious.
This was a steak covered with melted cheese and topped with ham, served with fried eggs and French fries. This was similar to “Loco Moco” in Hawaii (which is curious, since Sao Miguel was very similar to Maui in many ways, physically and geologically).
Crepe wrap with ice cream inside.
Very affordable for all that we ordered.
We spent our fourth day taking in the sites on the eastern and northern sides of the island, landing at a beach called Praia dos Moinhos.
I really liked this beach, mainly because there was a kickass beach restaurant called O Moinho Terrace Cafe that served up some decent burgers and boozy slushee drinks.
The burger won some local awards.
Here’s the view from the restaurant:
The burger needed some work to hang with the big guns of NYC, but overall I was happy with it. The atmosphere sells it too.
That night we ate in Ponta Delgada, at a restaurant called Rotas do Vinho. Melon and prosciutto:
Potato chips for the kids:
Wine for the grown ups:
And then some ice cream at a place called Abracadabra.
On this day, we hit the northwest side of the island, and went up to Sete Cidades, another crater lake area. We had crazy overcast and rain, however, so we didn’t get any gorgeous vista photos. Instead, we explored an abandoned 1980’s hotel called Monte Palace. I would wager that these photos are more interesting anyway:
We ate at a restaurant called Brisa do Mar in Mosteiros. My wife had the winning dish; a plate of grilled sardines.
I went with something more basic – chicken and sausage with fries.
We checked out the beach there too, which was really view-worthy. There were surfers and boogie boarders all over.
There was a stray dog:
We hit the beach for one last hoorah before the sun set on our final full day in paradise:
On two of the nights here (night five being one of them) we ate dinner at home in the apartment. We hit the grocery store and recreated some of our favorite dishes to snack on.
Great local brewery – there were five or six varieties:
Our favorite wine, $3 and amazingly smooth:
Spicy lupini beans:
Sauce of the Gods:
We also crushed some welcome pastries and booze that the apartment owners left for us. Very nice gesture, and we were able to eat whatever we wanted from their garden out back.
The next morning before heading to the airport, we had one last coffee in Ponta Delgada and tried some panini ham and cheese type specialties at a place called Azores Forever.
That about does it. The Azores really excels in cheeses, pastries and breads, stews, seafood and, of course, lupini beans! I really would love to go back. It’s just a four hour flight from Boston.
A little break from steak
to give you my take
on the best joints that make
taters: fried, mashed or baked.
Actually I’m going to nix mashed. You see, my mom makes the ultimate mashed potatoes. Insanely creamy and smooth, buttery, and riddled with melted mozzarella. Nothing I’ve ever had in the mashed potato realm even comes remotely close to that shit.
But I do have five favorite potato dishes from steak joints to share with you. These aren’t in any particular order, so don’t go reading into shit.
Boucherie’s French Fries
These fucking things are simply perfect. They’re hands down the best French fries I’ve ever had. There’s some sort of crispy and mildly spicy batter on the outside that gives them an extra crunch, while retaining a soft and smooth inside. Amazing.
Le Rivage’s Potatoes Au Gratin
Okay this isn’t a steak joint, but since Chef Paul is basically extended family to Pat LaFrieda, the meats you get here are immaculate (especially the French Onion Soup Burger). As such this is an honorary steak joint in my eyes. The potatoes? Insanity. I’ve had a lot of great gratins in my day, but this shit is next level. Go get it.
Apologies for the buffoonery in this photo. I didn’t get a shot of the taters myself, but my friend Mike from Gotham Burger Social Club managed to capture them in the foreground of this photo a little bit before we ruined it.
WAIT! Found one. Thanks Chef Paul!
Michael Jordan’s Hasselback Potatoes
This baby is not advertised on the regular menu, so you have to ask for it. It’s pre-sliced, fried, baked, covered with melted cheese, topped with sour cream, bacon, chives… I mean… It’s like a roid-raging unicorn baked potato streaking through the quad while on acid and cocaine at the same time. It’s fucking awesome.
Keen’s Prime Rib Hash Browns
This is one of the biggest portions of potato and meat you can get. The meat is their amazing prime rib, chopped up and worked into a hash brown that will leave you craving more every day of your life. They’re only offered on the brunch or bar menu, but if you ask nicely the waitresses/waiters will hook you up in the main dining room.
Pro Tip: order a few of these to take home with you and throw in the freezer. They heat up nice for future indulging.
I’m a sucker for a good potato chip. Sometimes I will even hand cut potatoes to about 3mm thick and roast in the oven with herbs, spices and oils to make a thick chip at home, but very rarely do I see anything similar at a restaurant. Rocco’s comes pretty damn close to it, and I really have to sing their praises for being so bold as to put something as simple and delicious as potato chips on their menu. These are their “Rocco’s Fries:”
I even used them as a vehicle for eating their creamless creamed spinach, which was excellent (top five creamed spinach post coming soon, no doubt).
Don’t worry. I’m not losing my balls and sprouting a vagina because I’m talking about dessert here. It’s just that I’ve come across a pack of five amazing sweet dishes during my meat escapades that I felt the need to share them with you all. These are the five best NYC steakhouse desserts I’ve ever tried, in no particular order.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle
Yes, yes. Everyone knows how amazing the “off menu” lemon cake is here (on the right below). But the on menu butter cake is fucking obscene (on the left below).
I guarantee you’ve never tasted anything quite like it. Just trust me and order it. So good I forgot to take a pic of it by itself before I started destroying it.
It’s like a glorious cross between regular cake, buttery crumb cake and satisfying pound cake. The edges are crisp and the inside is soft.
Okay this is an odd fucker, but so good. Ruth’s Chris serves a sweet potato casserole dish as a side item for your meal. I generally hate sweet potatoes. Even the wanna be, knock off French fry version of sweet potatoes. But the trick here is to get it as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Once you do that, you transform them into a sweet treat, much like candied yams (only better).
The baked Alaska is really something to behold here.
They invented the fucking thing for fuck’s sake, so I guess it better be good. It involves walnut sponge cake, apricot compote, banana gelato and toasted Italian meringue. Eat it. This is a part of American history, and it’s delicious to boot.
The Capital Grille
This dessert is really what set me off and inspired me to write this list, because I was blown away by it. Coconut cream pie.
Whatever short cake or sugar cookie crust they’ve got on the bottom is like fucking crack. And the cream is so nice without being overpowering or too sweet. Awesome.
Carrot cake might be my favorite cake ever.
This is 10 layers of the shit, with the classic cream cheese frosting in between and on top, and garnished with a kick-you-in-the-ass pineapple sauce that you wouldn’t think makes any sense, but it works so well.
An honorable mention here would be Peter Luger’s strudel with copious amounts of schlag. I haven’t tried the strudel, but I can vouch for the schlag (bowl in background below).
So why does it get an honorable mention if I haven’t even tried it? I’ve heard great things about it from trusted sources, and, well, because I really do love the schlag. I could eat it by itself, spoonful after spoonful.
I guess we do owe Luger’s a bit of gratitude anyway. If it weren’t for Luger’s, the “American Steakhouse” concept might not exist here. Yes, Delmonico’s was the first restaurant in the country and it’s a WAY better steak joint now, but the Luger’s proprietors brought the idea of a “meat hall” over from their family traditions of Austria (Vienna), and that just wasn’t really here before then. So, thanks Pete. Nice work. Keep at it. You might eventually get the steaks right someday. Hayooooo!
Like all great businesses, there’s usually a great story behind the success. Let’s take Strassburger Steaks, for example.
A girl brings her father a homemade sandwich to the family’s beef plant in the Bronx – I’m guessing roast beef with horseradish sauce on a nice crusty roll. There, she meets her future husband, who is working as her father’s right-hand man. Over 150 years later, that family still prides itself on the traditions of dedicated daughters and great steak.
Suzanne “Suzy Sirloin” Strassburger and her sister Andrea work with their father, who has passed down to them five generations of work ethic along with a successful and well-respected business. In the story above, the father is Suzy’s great-great grandfather, and the daughter is her great grandmother.
Suzy and Andrea’s own father, Peter “T-Bone” Strassburger, is an innovator and leader in the industry. He started boxed beef in New York (wholesale cuts of beef, like rib and loin, individually packaged and placed into boxes for shipping), and he educated many steakhouses on the virtues of aged beef. In fact, his family was the first to install an aging room in their plant.
But in addition to supplying prime, dry-aged beef to high-end NYC restaurants, Strassburger also sells steaks online at the consumer level. And now Suzanne is also promoting her brand “Suzy Sirloin” to grocery stores around the city. With this venture, she is moving pork and all natural, hormone-free beef as a way to diversify. Smart!
She has a knack for marketing, too. It’s not often you see a woman walking around Manhattan in a big straw cowboy hat, but that’s Suzy’s signature accessory, and it’s even featured as part of her “Suzy Sirloin” logo.
She has said that she wears the hat as a sign of respect to all the hard working ranchers that produce the beef she sells. Right on! I can get on board with that.
Suzy is also a fellow Masters of Beef Advocacy graduate and Top of the Class trainee, like me, so we both like to blab about the benefits of beef, both for society in general and as part of a well-balanced and nutritious diet. You can check out her blog here, but she also founded The Sirloin Report, to which I’ve linked in the past.
I had a chance to interview her on the phone. We started from a string of 10 questions, and chatted from there. Read on below and enjoy! I’ve done my best to distill our conversations down to all the best bits of information.
1) When did you realize you wanted to work in the meat business? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did it take some time to grow on you?
I knew immediately that I wanted to work in the business from the age of three or four. I always thought it was cool that when I asked my dad what he did, he’d respond that he worked for Poppa [Suzy’s grandfather]. Any day off that I had from school, I would be at the family meat factory helping out, answering phones, anything I could do.
Suzy went to college and started working professionally at the company around age 24. She worked literally every job in the business; putting together boxes, packing the boxes, you name it. This allowed her to really understand the challenges faced by each employee. She even worked beside guys in the cooler who had been there since her grandfather was running the place.
Suzy talked a lot about her family’s five and six generations in the meat business (both of her dad’s parents had beef industry families), and a lot about her dad.
Suzy has had some great success, but she says that her dad is a tough act to follow. He had eight plants out west that produced 10 million pounds of beef per week. He was the first wholesaler to box beef and to dry age beef in NYC. He’s still working today at 78 years old, and he always encourages Suzy and her sister to work hard and keep learning. In fact, Suzy went back to school this year and is enrolled in a program at Harvard business school. She’s always staying current and continuing to learn.
2) What is a typical day of work like for you from start to finish?
My work changes from day to day depending on where the business needs me. Some days I’ll be buying, other days selling. I’m also the business’ problem solver, so I have to make sure that everything is coming together and running smoothly.
3) What are some of the challenges and rewards you experience working in this business?
While the work was more challenging when I was younger, assembling the right team and having the right people around really helped. My sister runs the most challenging aspect of the business, which is collections. As for the most rewarding aspect? Enjoying a delicious steak at a client’s establishment.
4) I know you supply one of my favorite restaurants, Keens, with its beef. Do you also supply them with their legendary mutton?
Suzy does not supply Keen’s with their mutton. She deals exclusively in beef.
5) How do your foodservice clients choose their beef? Do they rely on your selection, or do they choose the cuts themselves?
Both. Some clients wish to choose everything, while others have developed long and trusting relationships with my family and rely on our expertise.
Suzy also explained that this loyalty and trust goes in the other direction too, from her to her beef suppliers. When times get tough and beef is hard to come by or expensive, Suzy has long standing relationships in place that allow her to still get her hands on the best supply.
6) Do you find that your clients and customers are well versed in beef nutrition, safety and the various niche labels, or is that something about which you constantly have to educate?
Suzy is constantly educating people about beef. She and I both went through the MBA and Top of the Class programs with the NCBA, so she, like me, is constantly providing useful information to people, both client and consumer alike. But there’s one thing she likes to say about food safety:
Buy it cold, serve it hot and keep it clean!
7) Is there a particular region of the country or breed of cattle from which you like to source your beef? I know food trends are pushing hard for “local” products, but doesn’t the best quality beef come from the Midwest and Texas?
Suzy supports ranchers and farmers from all over. She tries to make sure the client is happy. Whatever the client wants to serve at their restaurant, she will help to make it happen.
8) How often do you interact with farmers, ranchers, and other producers before the beef gets to your operation?
The reason Suzy wears her cowboy hat all the time is because she believes that beef and her business is ultimately all about the ranchers and farmers. She visits ranches and farms often, and many of her close friends are ranchers, farmers and butchers. She surrounds herself with people who are working with the animals daily. Not only does Suzy understand what goes into beef production, but she respects the process and doesn’t take for granted what these hard working families do for the American food supply.
9) I’m a big fan of dry-aged beef. Do you find that any particular cuts take to this process better than others, and are there amounts of time that are too long or too short for producing good flavor?
We dry age middle meats like shells [bone-in strip loins], short loins [porterhouses and t-bones], and ribs. We typically age them for three to four weeks, but it really depends on what the customer or client wants.
After we chatted for a bit about her family’s important role in the world of dry-aged beef, Suzy astutely pointed out that no two aging rooms are alike. The way the beef turns out all depends on how often people walk in and out of the room, the air circulation, the lighting, temperature, humidity, etc.
10) What’s your favorite cut of beef and why? Grilled, smoked, or seared in a pan? And how often do you eat beef in any given week?
A grilled, prime, boneless New York strip steak is my favorite. And I eat beef 14 times a week.
Bacon is an important part of the steakhouse experience. After all, a slab of thick cut bacon is just as much a staple to the classic steakhouse meal as a side of creamed spinach, a plate of ice cold raw oysters, or a nice strong martini.
Devouring a plate of thick cut bacon before eating a steak is one of the most manly and satisfying things you can do. As such, I’ve endeavored to highlight the five best bacon dishes that NYC steakhouses have to offer.
These slabs are house smoked and cured, sous vide for days, and then rendered off to perfection with Tuthilltown Spirits’ Noble Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. At about an inch and a half thick per slab, you can almost order this as your main course and treat it like a “bacon steak.”
If you want a taste of something that’s slightly out of the ordinary but still satisfies your thick cut bacon fix, this is your place to go. This bacon has some kind of sweet chili glaze on it that separates it from all the rest on this list. It’s really unique, tender and crisp, but also really fucking thick (over an inch thick, so also big enough to eat as an entree). An absolute must try.
If classic, thick, un-fucked-with bacon is what you’re after, then this is the place to get it. This is some amazingly crisp and tasty stuff. Also very thick at about an inch. What you get here is your standard morning breakfast bacon, but at a whopping portion that comes off the grill looking so beautiful. Fucking insanity.
While not exactly a full-on steakhouse, this joint represents the bacon scene with mighty force. They serve this thick-cut Nueskes bacon with a peanut butter sauce and jalapeño jelly. This shit is like fucking crack to my taste buds. You need to try this if you haven’t done so already.
Another great entry in the classic style category, this “Canadian” slab bacon is legit. Usually when I hear the words “Canadian Bacon” I think of circular shaped stuff that tastes more like ham than bacon. Not here. The soft, buttery fat banding alternates perfectly with the lean meat on these grilled slabs. They are also nearly an inch thick, so you really get great satisfaction from this dish.
I’d love to hear your thoughts for other possible candidates. I briefly considered Keen’s, Peter Luger’s, Bob’s, Palm Too, Strip House, and Ben & Jack’s, but ultimately I felt that they just couldn’t stand up to these five. They’re just on another level.
If you don’t already know about Delmonico’s, then you’re missing out. For over a decade, I’ve gotten pissed off every time I’ve seen TV shows or news articles about steakhouses (both in NYC and throughout the country) that discussed a whole bunch of mediocre places without Delmonico’s even so much as being mentioned. I’m happy to see that trend is finally changing, and people are waking up.
Not only is this joint serving up some of the best steaks in town, but they were first. Yeah. That’s right, Peter Luger fans. This place was the first fine dining restaurant in America, opening its doors in 1837. They invented the “Delmonico” Steak (a boneless rib eye) and Delmonico Potatoes, obviously. But they also invented Chicken a la King, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newberg, Egg’s Benedict and Manhattan Clam Chowder.
It’s one thing to be first or to have been around a long time, but it’s quite another to be consistently top notch. While I’ve only been getting down on steaks for this blog for about six or seven years, I can honestly tell you that they’ve always been a top choice favorite of mine, sitting comfortably in my top three to five steakhouses for the entire time. Right now they are first on the leader board, at 97/100 points. The 45-day dry aged rib eye is one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten, and their bacon is hands down the best in the city. My full review base on several visits is HERE.
But anyway, on to the point of this article.
This month Delmonico’s is celebrating its 180th year in operation. Starting on 9/14 they’re offering 180-day dry aged bone-in rib eye steaks to mark the occasion. They’re being served on keepsake plates that you get to take home, featuring the artwork of New Yorker cartoonist John Donohue.
The steak is about 28oz of bone-in rib eye, and it’s magnificent. I was invited in to try it with some other steak connoisseurs.
It has a deep nutty and earthy funk to it, while still remaining juicy and tender. Chef Billy Oliva really nails it. This cut is being offered at $380 and is easily shareable, since you also will need to try some of their signature apps, sides and desserts when you go.
But that’s not all. The restaurant has also invited a bunch of well known chefs to create dishes that celebrate Delmonico’s 180th. This special tribute menu is available from 9/14 through 10/14.
I was able to try a few of these items as well (I focused mostly on the beef-centric dishes, though I did try some others). My favorites were as follows:
Chili Rubbed Rib Eye with White Corn Pudding, by Michael Lomonaco, Porter House.
This steak is in the vein of those cajun rib eye steaks you might see at Greenwich Steakhouse or Smith & Wollensky. It is truly delicious, and I highly recommend it if you’re not springing for Chef Billy Oliva’s 180-day dry aged rib eye.
Tournedos Rossini, by Paul Liebrandt, two Michelin starred chef, author and consultant.
That’s a massive, tender and juicy filet mignon sitting on a potato pancake and sautéed spinach, all topped by some foie gras. This is 100% pure decadence. Awesome dish.
Lobster Shepherd’s Pie, by Danny Meyer, Union Square Cafe.
Nine Herb Ravioli, by Daniel Boulud, Daniel.
Beef Wellington, by Harry & Peter Poulakakos, Harry’s Steak & Cafe.
Paris Brest Profiteroles, by Dominique Ansel, Dominique Ansel Bakery.
I really suggest you get down here between 9/14 and 10/14. I know I’m going back at least two more times this month to try more shit. Get on it, people. This is a rare opportunity to try a wide variety of amazing dishes and steaks. Tell them Johnny Prime sent you.
I don’t really review supermarkets, but every so often I feel the need to pipe up about something that bothers me. And don’t be alarmed, I WILL say some good things too, but let me get to the bad shit first.
I don’t know if its’ some new fucking food waste trend, or if it’s just the shitty condition of Manhattan grocery stores in general, but the produce at these two supermarkets have royally sucked lately. Every time I go to the Columbus Circle, 9th Avenue and 57th Street locations of these joints, the greens, veggies and produce are half rotten. And Columbus Circle is supposed to be THE FLAGSHIP Whole Foods location, from what I understand.
I can’t even remember how many times I’ve picked up a head of broccoli only to have the stems bend like rubber under its own weight. I’ve purchased a head of lettuce for $3 or $4 and had to throw half of it out because it was turning fucking brown.
Yes, yes. None of us like to waste food. I know all about “ugly food” initiatives, and I support them. Why toss it if you can sell it, or give it to someone who is hungry?
But this garbage should be discounted if the condition is going to always be shitty. In Manhattan, this crap is double the price of the suburbs. We are getting raped here.
Part of the reason, I’m convinced, is because of those dumb fucking sprinkler systems that spray water on the produce every minute. Dumb. It just asks for rot to form on the food. The other reason, maybe more specific to Manhattan, is the heat in Summer, slow delivery times due to traffic, and poor refrigeration. Either way I’m not happy about it.
On the other hand, Whole foods has an awesome deli and fresh pre-prepared food area, along with a kick ass bakery, beer selection and olive bar. Morton Williams has a nice deli too. I picked up this sandwich the other day and really enjoyed it: smoked turkey, provolone cheese, roasted red peppers and pesto on a roll: $7.25.
Another item for the plus column: beef selection. While the items can get pricey at times, the quality is very good. Whole Foods offers dry aged beef, and both joints have some great sales if you watch out for them.
It’s 1:00 am. It’s bitter cold outside, early December. Phil Trowbridge is making his first of three rounds throughout the night to check on his animals. He’ll do the same at 3:00 am, and then at 5:00 am, before even starting the day. It’s harsh, but it always has to be done, every day, even on Christmas.
He hears and sees one of the cows struggling. She’s panicked. When he gets close he knows his long work day is going to be even longer. Her entire reproductive system has prolapsed, and if he doesn’t act quickly, she’ll die.
Phil’s son PJ is with him helping, as he’s done all his life. They live just a stones throw away now that a neighbor sold his house to PJ. They run the farm together.
They get the cow into the chute and place her prolapsed uterus onto a makeshift table that Phil created on the fly, using a stretched feed bag. They raise a bar up under her to keep her from shifting, moving, and making an already dire situation even worse.
The climate in the Hudson Valley can be wet and icy. Her front legs slip forward while her back legs remain propped up from the bar. She tips forward. Now things could get really bad.
But it’s a happy accident. She can’t move, and her body is angled in such a way that it’s perfect for getting her insides back in place. Phil ties her front legs and pulls them forward, keeping her at that angle, while PJ – hands and arms numb with cold in the frigid, dark December air – puts their cow back together again.
After spending a day with Phil and breaking bread with his family over dinner, I asked him and his son to tell me the most challenging and rewarding aspects of their profession. Phil told me that story, and it exemplifies both challenge and reward together in one grueling morning.
Phil has had to deal with maybe three prolapses in his decades of experience working with cattle, but he knows how to address the problem. In fact, he knows how to fix so much of what can go wrong on the farm, that if his veterinarians get a call, they’re truly worried.
I asked Phil and his son what the hardest part of their job is. Both he and PJ were modest: They told me it wasn’t a hard job, but I know I wouldn’t last a week doing what they do, day in and day out. Given the daily farm work on top of everything else they do, no one is ever idle.
While many things may come easy to Phil and PJ with their collective wealth of experience, there are still some things with which they have trouble.
Phil told me that losing an animal is hard. When that happens, it stays with him. His heart breaks. The roughly 400 animals in his care are like children to him. He checks on them all day, grows and mixes their food, feeds them, cleans them, monitors their health and keeps them healthy, delivers their babies… That’s respect. That’s love.
And from what I’ve seen it’s not just Phil; it’s all cattlemen who are worth a damn in this business. You don’t step into this lifestyle without respect and love for the animals. That’s something the average person doesn’t understand about our cattlemen.
Phil runs Trowbridge Farms – a patchwork of pastures, farms and barns that spans 1700 acres in Ghent, NY, about two hours North of Manhattan by train/car on the east side of the Hudson River.
Phil is originally from Buffalo, so this area may as well be Florida to him. When he first arrived here decades ago, he was surprised that cattle could even feed on pasture.
You may be thinking something like, “How the hell can someone run cattle in New York, where taxes and land costs are so high?” And that’s an excellent question.
The majority of land Phil works and uses is not his own. Rather, he rents and leases land from homeowners who are weekenders and summer vacationers from New York City. They own second homes, but allow Phil to raise feed crops and grasses there, and to graze his animals on the land, in exchange for rent or barter.
Because of this system, Phil can probably raise cattle cheaper than most places in the country. The relationships are mutually beneficial: Phil maintains the land, and the homeowners can sit back and earn additional income.
The soil here is everything. Across the Hudson, the earth is like clay, and therefore it’s harder to raise crops. Here, it’s more gravely and easier to work with. Phil couldn’t have this kind of productive operation if he didn’t understand the soil and how it affects plant makeup. In fact, there is pressure from dairy farms to get this better land for the alfalfa.
“Why?” For their feed.
Alfalfa is a high production, high nutrient legume plant that Phil uses in his cattle feed.
He takes three or four cuttings, and when I visited on July 2nd, he had already taken the first cutting. With his bromegrass and Timothy-grass farms, he only gets two cuttings. He also grows oats and corn as well, and makes his own hay and baleage.
Baleage, or silage, is a fermented feed that helps cattle in their digestion process. It also keeps longer without spoiling. That combination makes for an economically viable and nutritionally beneficial feed solution.
To make baleage Phil uses a vertical grinder and mixer first, to break up the feed crops. Then he covers it with tarp and weighs it down with specially cut tires that won’t collect water and draw mosquitoes. This allows the fermentation to occur and turn the crops into cattle feed.
While Phil grows and makes most of his own feed, he does buy some corn because it’s cheap. He also works with local distillers to get fermented corn mash byproduct, which is similar to baleage in its digestive benefits. It’s also a great way to reduce commercial waste and make good use of stuff that is otherwise discarded.
Cows love grain and alfalfa because they’re sweet. Alfalfa can be so rich, nutrient-wise, that at times Phil has to cut his feed with more fiber so that the cows don’t get too heavy.
“Why? Don’t we want big, heavy animals in the beef industry for price-per-weight values?”
It depends. In his sector of the business, Phil is primarily concerned with producing bulls and calves of good breeding stock and genetics, not to get them up to a high market weight for later eating, like what you often see at feed yards in the Midwest.
Phil ultimately wants comfortable females for breeding, and energetic, virile bulls for seeding. So, nutrient-wise, Phil takes different things into account because his end product is a much different animal, produced with a different purpose, than those produced in other sectors of the business: Phil’s animals are for breeding, while the others are for eating.
Speaking of Phil’s business, let me segue into more of what he does.
Trowbridge Farms is a seed stock operation, which means that Phil produces bulls that are eventually purchased by cow-calf farms. Since I know that you readers are at a remedial level when it comes to farm terminology, I’ll explain what this all means:
Bulls are intact males that can reproduce (steers are castrated, and can not reproduce). A cow-calf farm is a place where a permanent herd of cows gets pregnant and gives birth to calves, which are later sold.
Just prior to my visit, Phil had completed his annual bull sale. He averaged about $3,975 per head. That’s pretty fantastic, considering that his closest competition was bringing in half of that amount.
Phil hosts a yearly heifer sale (female cattle that have never been pregnant) and a calf sale as well. In addition he engages in many sales outside of his annual events.
Phil also sells frozen bull semen and embryos with the use of vapor shippers. Cows can give birth about 10-12 times, on average, in their lifetime, before pregnancy becomes stressful on their body. But with embryonic science in play at Phil’s lab, he can get hundreds of fertilized eggs from his cows, freeze them, and use or sell them later. Given this aspect of the business, some of his cows have produced 500-600 offspring.
Almost all of Phil’s cows are surrogate mothers that were transplanted with embryos.
Timing is important when it comes to the cows. He schedules things around their super ovulation. First, CIDR (controlled internal drug release) devices are vaginally implanted – they’re like giant IUDs. This makes the cows think they’re ovulating, which allows him to synchronize all of their reproductive systems.
They get a follicle stimulation hormone, which produces lots of eggs. He then artificially inseminates them to fertilize the eggs with his bull semen, thereby creating embryos. The embryos are then flushed out and used or sold.
The process is just as intensive as human in vitro science. Phil’s daughter is an in vitro nurse and actually knows more than most doctors she works with, because she’s been doing this with cows for about 30 years.
In Phil’s operation, the bulls never touch a cow’s cervix. He usually puts embryos into cows fresh, as opposed to thawed from frozen, to increase the conception rate (15%-20% higher).
He sells a lot of frozen product to Argentina; about 40,000 units. But he makes more money from his US sales. This one bull, named Powder River, is like a legend around the farm. He’s spoiled and lazy, but he generates tons of product even at an old age – almost quadruple what other bulls can produce.
The frozen semen and embryos are stored in tubes or straws, and placed into liquid nitrogen holding tanks. In the event that Phil identifies a genetic abnormality, he will separate and retain the samples because many universities have expressed interest in studying them.
Phil’s customers are buying bulls, bull semen and embryos because they want specific genes to be expressed in their herds, and they know that Phil’s bulls produce some of the most desirable characteristics and embody superior genetics.
Customers look at these purchases as investments, like buying stocks. When they come to Phil, they usually don’t leave without buying.
Most of Phil’s animals are Angus. He has a few Hereford and cross breeds in the mix, but people know him for his superior quality Angus. Hereford cattle are notorious for suffering from pink eye in the summer months, so Phil has endeavored to breed his Hereford to have different eye traits so that his are less prone to pink eye.
He has blood tests performed on every animal at a cost of about $50 a pop. Two drops of blood are taken and sent out to a lab.
These tests assess 50,000 different genomic markers that express traits related to things like parentage, marbling, tenderness, udder structure, temperament, body build and residual feed intake, among others. In addition to testing for these traits, the DNA samples are also used for parent verification.
“So what does the average day look like for Phil?”
Well, like most farms, Trowbridge is a family affair. Phil’s wife Annie does the books in the morning before heading to the hospital, where she’s a nurse on the surgical floor.
Phil’s son PJ is vital at the farm. He holds a degree in animal science from SUNY Cobleskill, and is the farm mechanic for all of the equipment.
Phil is usually up by 6:00 am, feeding and checking on the animals, and, thereafter, making hay in the Spring and Summer.
In Winter, he gets up an hour earlier to check on the cows. He recently installed video equipment in the barns so that he doesn’t always need to check on the cows several times overnight to see if they’re calving.
Calving is done twice a year: In early winter (January, February and March), and in the Fall. Calving in January means he can cut nine months of the process in working with bulls. Phil is focused on both human and animal safety, and bulls can fight each other and tear stuff up. He likes to sell them off before they turn two years old, because the older they get, the harder they are to manage.
Right now Phil is playing host to 4H kids for the Summer. They’re learning about cattle, hogs and lambs. The kids pick the animals themselves; they’re purchased on loan and then sold in September.
The kids learn how to take care of the animals, they keep track of feed and vaccinations with spreadsheets, and they show the animals at the county fair.
Many cattlemen work second jobs and perform odd tasks like this in their community. In addition to hosting 4H kids, Phil was the president of the NY Beef Council (which sponsored my tour here), he helped develop the new Veterinary Feed Directive laws that just went into effect, he runs a college internship program, and he goes on speaking tours for the industry. His son PJ has a tow truck gig at night, and he does some construction work for a friend in Albany when needed.
As if all of that isn’t enough, the Trowbridges also have to be vigilant of trespassing. A few months back, someone broke into the donor cow and calf barn behind the lab, took a bunch of video, and posted it online. Fortunately the guerrilla “coverage” was very positive in nature, but someone could have gotten hurt. And now sheriffs have been coming around, warning Phil that kids are stealing some of the ice packs used in shipping to make meth. Crazy.
Needless to say, no one is ever bored at Trowbridge Farms. But no one is resting on their laurels either. Phil wants to pass the farm on to his children, and beyond to his grandchildren.
He purchased his first barn there 25 years ago when it was a brush pile. He built it up and installed all the fencing little by little at night after spending his day working at a nearby farm. Since then his operation has become scientifically cutting edge and well respected in the community. Articles have been written in trade magazines attesting to Trowbridge’s advances in the field.
Not only is Phil’s farm economically productive and a benefit to both the industry and the community, but Phil is ecologically responsible and an excellent steward of the land.
Phil builds lasting relationships with everyone he encounters on a regular basis. I had the pleasure of hearing a message that someone left on Phil’s voicemail, thanking him for all he does in the area. The people of Ghent respect what he does, and he respects the people of Ghent. He even throws a hot dog and hamburger cookout for the locals each year that draws hundreds.
When Phil was driving me around the community, he pointed out some of the other business that came and went. Old chicken farms, welding shops, mechanic shops, well drillers, orchards, artist warehouse studios, craft breweries… And even some newcomers like grass finished, no antibiotics beef producers.
Some of these folks will allow their animals to die because they refuse to treat their cattle with antibiotics. Phil understands and respects the “no antibiotics” niche markets that have developed, but he’s also a big believer in medicine and cares for the animals too much to let one die when an illness is perfectly treatable.
His words: “If that doesn’t bother you, then there’s something not right.” In my opinion, this kind of attitude is absolutely necessary in order to work with animals to any measure of lasting success. Phil is by no means one of a kind within the beef industry when it comes to this outlook on animals, but that’s no slight to him. His work is demonstrative of how great the practitioners of this business are at its core. He’s exemplary, and exemplary is common in this business. That’s a good thing.
But Phil’s love for the animals he works with is instantly revealed to all the moment he encounters them. They’re calm in his presence, and very trusting of him and other people – even strangers like me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The Trowbridge family name is celebrating 60 years in the cattle business this year. I’m very happy to have met Phil and his family, and I’m honored to put a spotlight on them for my readers.