Where’s The Beef?
Six sizzling spots for the best steaks in Westchester.
By Judith Hausman
Photography by Iko
Suggest fish for dinner, and your average red-blooded American male is likely to have one of three reactions: (a) he’ll turn as white as the flounder; (b) he’ll give you a polite smile or (c) he’ll high-tail it out to a classic American steakhouse for what he really wants: meat.
For many Westchesterites (particularly men), red meat rules. And, thanks to the popularity of high-protein, low-carb diets like Atkins, it is once again
acceptable—even preferable—to say “yes” to steak. Consequently, the classic American steakhouse is back in vogue as a destination for manly men—and the women who love them.
The formula is universal: a masculine, saloon-style atmosphere featuring really big cuts of good beef with an array of familiar side dishes. Yes, there’s often rack of lamb, veal and pork chops as thick as a phone book—even lobster and daily fish specials—but people are picking up those steak knives for the beef.
Here’s where to go when you’re looking for something big and tender to sink your teeth into.
Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse (77 Purchase Street, Rye; 914-925-3900) is the Westchester branch of the two Manhattan and Hoboken restaurants of the same name. The speakeasy-style atmosphere is classic: dark wood, mirrors and opulent velvet lounge chairs in the lobby. From the balcony seating upstairs, you can watch the bartender pour your cosmo at the bar below. An arched stained-glass window dominates one end of the skylit upper floor, and a raucous version of a Hopper-style cityscape commands the front wall.
Then, there’s the food. Onion rings? Splendid. Diners lift the extra-large frizzled strands from a greaseless nest of rich crunch. Beefsteak tomatoes and sliced onions? Perfect. Bluepoint oysters, too. And what can I say about the sirloin? A thick hunk of glistening beef, well-textured, cooked perfectly, unadorned—and the least expensive of the featured steaks at $30. A slightly sweet and smoky house steak sauce arrives with it.
Parise’s Steakhouse (175 Main Street, Ossining; 914-762-5596) is a workingman’s steakhouse where the guys can watch the game with draft beers and steak sandwiches at the bar. Photos of the “Parise Team” adorn the brick walls; there is often hockey on the tube. The extended Parise family has been in the steak business for two generations and for nine years in this location by the Croton Aqueduct path in downtown Ossining.
There’s a full line of heavy-hitting, reasonably priced steaks; a demure filet mignon with mushrooms ($22.95); a 20-ounce rib-eye with onions for one ($18.95); a 40-ounce shell steak for two ($32.95); a 40-ounce sirloin for four ($60.95). Unfortunately, we had to saw through our generous, but not especially flavorful, T-bone ($15.95). It didn’t quite match Parise’s definition of “medium” either. A better choice is the sirloin. The house salad, with a little carrot, spinach and red cabbage, is better than many, and there are plenty of sides to choose from: shrimp cocktail, fresh mozzarella and tomato salad, steamed clams and garlic bread. Want fries? Go for it, but skip the onion rings; they come straight out of the freezer bag.
Ever wonder about the strange apostrophe in Ruth’s Chris Steak House (670 White Plains Road, Tarrytown, in the Marriott Westchester; 914-631-3311) Ruth Fertel bought the Chris Steak House in New Orleans in 1965, then turned it into the country’s largest high-end steak chain with 89 restaurants worldwide. A chain, yes, but, nevertheless, a really good one.
The hostess guides diners through the rich green and dark wood space, and the meal begins with descriptions of the butter and the 500-degree(!) plate on which your steak will be served. The wine list has plenty of respectable choices, the thickly crusted onion rings are stacked in a dome and the potatoes can be served as a tangle of crisp strands or thick, brown wedges. An original, creamy chopped salad, as well as a few New Orleans specialties, such as shrimp rÃ©moulade, seafood gumbo and whiskey bread pudding, join the traditional menu. The aged, prime steaks are huge, excellent and accurately grilled from the “petite filet” at $27.95 to the bone-in “cowboy rib-eye” (an extra-large loin cut)
Well-trained, solicitous servers flourish the desserts, laying the apple crumb
cake, chocolate mousse cheesecake and banana cream pie right on your table, so it’s really hard to say no. Each portion can easily satisfy two to four people, but better to spend your appetite (and calories) on the steak—it’s really the point of the place. Plan to take home leftovers, too. Extra-large is part of the deal and steak sandwiches with ketchup make the perfect lunch the next day.
With its big bar, dark wood and white tablecloths, Flames Steakhouse (533 North State Road, Briarcliff Manor; 914-923-3100) is the place many Westchesterites think of when steak is mentioned. With its fancy but not stiff service, Flames is also the only local steakhouse with a large patio where a 280-year-old white oak tree shades summer diners.
During my visit, I watched as the waiter dished out a sizzling, sliced porterhouse to two men in jeans at the next table. These apparently serious steak lovers had finished the meat and were on to their zuccotto, an Italian mousse dessert, before we’d even finished our salads. (When you make it to dessert, besides zuccotto, try the decent
The server recites too many daily specials to remember, but who can forget steak? You order by portion; that is, steak for one, two, three or four ($36 to $138—determined by the cut, size and what part of the loin is used) or the porterhouse (available for two for only $69). Flames dry-ages its beef on the premises for four full weeks. Curious about the legendary Kobe beef from Japan? Try it here at just $85 a pop. The cattle
is massaged, grain-fed and otherwise pampered to produce thoroughly marbled and tender beef. As for the sides, the chopped salad is light and fresh here as is the creamed spinach.
Ye Olde Tollgate (974 East Boston Post Road, Mamaroneck; 914-381-7233) is a very basic, casual steakhouse with a series of small, taverny dining rooms. The featured steaks are “USDA prime aged” (see box, entitled “â€˜Debeefing’ Steak Terminology”) and sold by the portion, rather than by weight. Despite our belief to the contrary, our waiter swore some regulars can demolish the steak for four ($106.50) by themselves, with just a glass of water on the side. Our steak was bone-in and meaty; it’s hard to imagine that any one person could finish even the 32-oz. portion for two. The house salad is just lettuce and tomato, but the requisite shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach and hearts of lettuce salad are all on the sides list. We did like the buttery, soft smothered onions with our beef. Across the room, a party of Belgians, whose homeland claims to have “really” invented French fries, were praising Tollgate’s effort—a very good sign.
Our well-trained, professional waiter at The Willett House (20 Willett Avenue in Port Chester; 914-939-7500) knew the restaurant’s entire history. The cavernous, multi-level dining room with exposed beams and wood ceilings was originally built at the turn of the century for grain storage, he told us, and then became a plumbing supplies warehouse. The handsomely restored restaurant does a brisk business in meetings, events and parties in smaller, private rooms as well. Here’s a steakhouse where you can safely skip your ale; the man behind the large, comfortable bar presides over a wine list representing a cellar of 950 bottles, a collection established just during the last three years. Take your time; even the daily featured wines-by-the-glass list makes good reading.
Signature appetizers are worth including in your meal at The Willett House. The clams are tiny cockles steamed in white wine and garlic; the salad is a medley of chopped green beans, onions, Gorgonzola cheese, tomatoes and shrimp. Oysters, shrimp and clam cocktails are also available—and popular.
Steaks here are USDA prime aged, and degrees of doneness are considerately defined on the menu. We followed the bartender’s preference and tried the thick, compact, boneless shell steak ($36). The crusty, grilled exterior and an accurate, juicy interior were perfect. As for sides, don’t kid yourself that you’re eating
your greens—this restaurant’s creamed spinach emphasizes the cream, as does the bowlful of buttery mashed potatoes. The crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e cheesecake at The Willett House is outrageously more of
the same—but sweet.
As food critic for The Journal News (Gannett Suburban Newspapers), Judith Hausman is a dedicated omnivore.