Keens overall score: 96
Keens holds a special place in my heart, and is easily one of my favorite places in NYC. The ceiling is lined with clay churchwarden tobacco pipes. I’m talking EVERYWHERE. I smoke a pipe on occasion, and I almost always use a churchie, so when I first found out about this place back in 2003 or 2004, I was flipping out. I went once back then and had a porterhouse with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. This time I was with a group of friends, so I got to taste much more of the menu. Interesting factoid – Keens had a fire and lost all their records of who owned what pipes. All they have left are the serial numbers written on them. Many a famous person had one in the place, including presidents and the like. My friend Joe’s grandfather had a pipe in there, and we inquired about how to go about locating it. Bottom line – we need to know the serial number of Joe’s grandfather’s pipe. Once we find that, we can locate it in the restaurant and stare at it in awe.
I ordered a braised short rib. I know, I know. PUSSY! But let me ‘splain. Everyone shared, and Keens is known for many things. First thing they are known for: they didn’t allow women into the place until it was well beyond normal. Second, the pipes. Third, the mutton chop. And fourth, the braised short rib. I love braised meat, so I figured I would give it a shot, since the other stuff on the menu was basically covered by the other diners at the table. It was tasty and good, but a little dry. That means it was either cooked too fast, or cooked too long. Okay – no biggie. My buddy got the mutton chop, which was amazing. Nice clean gaminess, thick as hell, on a nice bone, and seasoned to a beautiful crisp. The others at the table (the same rag-tag crew from Dylan Prime) split a porterhouse for three. That was hands down the best porterhouse I have ever tried. The strip side was a little tough and chewy, but it was full of great flavor and prepared/cooked flawlessly. The filet side was perfect. PERFECT. On a second trip, the strip side far exceeded the filet side. I would give it a 9 for flavor here, but the braised item doesn’t really count now, does it? The brilliant mutton and the unbelievable porterhouse make up for it in scores.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 8
They have a great selection of some really nice looking meats. As mentioned above; mutton chop, braised short rib, the porterhouse, lamb chops, pork chops… Notice anything missing? THE FUCKING RIBEYE! THEY DO NOT HAVE A RIBEYE ON THE MENU! WHY!?!??!?? I will never understand. As my dad once said; “Everyone should have rib eye… even McDonalds.” I suppose they only serve it when they have it on special? Perhaps it is so good that they only do it on occasion. I will go back, and next time they better have it on the menu (on a second trip – STILL no ribeye – but they do have prime rib). Three points off what was an in-the-bag 10 if they had even a 12oz choice cut ribeye with no marbling whatsoever. Bad move Keens. UPDATE!!! On a third visit they had a rib eye. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, but it was good (8/10). I’d say it was about 16oz, boneless, and juuicy/tender. As promised above, I have given the full award for points here, now that a ribeye has made the menu. Alas, though, I had to remove some points again because on yet another visit the rib eye was gone. I guess it is only a once in a while offering.
Portion Size & Plating: 9
I think I recall someone at the table saying they thought the portion size was small for something – perhaps the steak for three? I was a little bit buzzed up, so I can’t remember… But the mutton was massive, and I thought the steak for three was huge, especially since I ate about 6 or 8 ounces of it toward the end of the meal when everyone was getting full. The short rib was a bit lady-like, but not TOO dainty. It really is a woman’s order. Come on guys… Don’t do what I did. Get the porterhouse. The creamed spinach was normal size to slightly small, but I think they split a portion up into a few ramekins for us to share easier. I am hesitant to take a point off because I am a little fuzzy, but my heart says take one.
Once again, Tom picked up the damn bill (THANK YOU!), so the meal was free. It was an effort to get him to let us pay the tip. How can I give anything less than a 10? To be honest though, the prices are fair and you definitely get your money’s worth, so a 10 all the way. On trip number two, steak for two, two sides, one app, and a couple of drinks came to about $80 per person, including tax and tip – totally reasonable. Here’s a recent bill for two:
Not only is the steak great, but the bar at Keens is one of my favorite places to hang out even if I am not planning on eating. It has timeless character, it is classy, it is old New York, and it is always fun. Plus they make a mean martini with nice big, fat olives. And HOLY SHIT the scotch menu is only rivaled by the Brandy Library in Tribeca in terms of selection and quality. They sport five different laphroaigs, and three different lagavulins – those are my two favorite scotches. They just don’t make places like this anymore. Martinis run about $15 here, and Keens has their own beer (made by Brooklyn brewing company, i think) – its a nice IPA, not overly hoppy.
Specials and Other Meats: 10
Like I said earlier, they have everything except ribeye. This is simply an amazing place to eat – there really is something for everyone, even vegetarian assholes. I’d like for the ribeye to be a main fixture, even if it is a “special” or off the menu. No real “specials” to mention, but for other meats the obvious star is the mutton.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 10
We skipped apps this time around, but last time I had a lobster cocktail, which was really well done. The creamed spinach was really unique; it has a hint of clove to it that really set it apart from other places. Plus is tasted really friggin’ awesome too. For dessert I had the cask strength Laphroaig that always nearly blows my shoes off. Potent but leathery-delicious. In all honesty, this category might NOT deserve a 10. I simply didn’t try enough items. What I did try was fantastic on both trips though, so I can’t take a point in good conscience. One a second visit, I had the bacon app, which was delicious. Not quite on the level of some other joints, but still really great. We also had the french fries, which I think you would be hard pressed to find better in NYC – they are up there with the best in town.
Some apps from a second visit – halibut tartare and littleneck clams:
Dessert – creme brulee and coffee ice cream:
Bacon – perfection!
The prime rib hash browns. from the bar menu, are incredible.
Seafood Selection: 9
Sole, salmon, shrimp and lobster. Not bad! Plus all the usual apps and shellfish, with an added selection of cured salmon that I was really tempted to try. I would have liked to see a meat-eaters fish on the menu though: maybe a swordfish steak or something good and manly.
Service: 11 (only 10 scored)
“But these ones go to 11” – Nigel Tufnel. If I could give an 11, I would. Wait a second… I can! This is my game, bitches – but I won’t count the extra point. I need to maintain some level of integrity; the 11 is in spirit only. Our waiter, Chris, KNEW HIS SHIT. It is because of him that Keens is an 11 in spirit. I even TESTED him about the history of the place. He busted out a really eloquent explanation of the establishment without even sounding scripted or rehearsed. He also made really good suggestions when it came to the food, and, for his young age, even seemed to know a good deal about fine scotch (they have a menu of over 200 different scotches). Attentive, polite, not annoying or prying – just an overall good experience. On another visit, our waiter Muhammed showed us that he knew all about the history of this place as well, and was really great – a true gentleman. As far as table items – they had these really awesome, large, half-sour pickles in a tray with olives and celery. The bread was really tasty too – warm, butter easily spread, etc.
Ambiance: 11 (only 10 scored)
An 11 can go here too; for real – and same with the bar. Keens is hands down the best ambiance and atmosphere of all the steakhouses I have ever been to. It is old, but not quiet and musty. It is vibrant and fun, but not loud and annoying or over-crowded. It is manly, but also really inviting for people of all sexes (women and trannies included). This place isn’t just a restaurant – it is a destination, a landmark, an experience, a hangout. The pictures on their website don’t do it justice, and when you are in there, you feel like you are a king. The history of the place is really amazing too. I recently learned that they have an actual playbill from the theater/show during which Lincoln was assassinated (see below), and they also sport one of Teddy Roosevelt’s taxidermied hunting trophies on one of the walls.
Bread basket: nice and warm.
Crudite: crisp and refreshing, good dipping sauce.
Martini: shaken up nicely.
12-ingredient salad: a dozen praises.
Tomato & onion with mozzarella: standard steakhouse starting fare.
House-cured salmon: a good briny beginning to a meal.
Pumpernickel nut bread that comes with the salmon:
6-east and 6-west coasters: both delicious and crisp.
Seafood platter: 6 oysters, 4 clams, 4 shrimp and half a lobster. Great deal for $52.
Prime rib: juicy, tender, delicious.
Mutton: an excellent alternameat for those looking for something bold and unique.
Filet mignon: simplicity at its finest.
Creamed spinach: warm and inviting, green with cream and nutmeg.
Escarole that came with the mutton: YES! Escarole needs more attention in restaurants.
Mushrooms: a good little side.
Mutton slice: a perfect medium rare cook job.
Doggie bag: woof.
Coffe cantata dessert: coffee ice cream with chocolate, berry sauce and topped with a marshmallowy whipped cream.
Creme brûlée: a classic.
Stilton cheese plate dessert (comes with a glass of port): funky.
“The Bad News” – ouch
Ambiance: a NYC icon.
72 W. 36th St.
New York, NY 10018