Season after season, with each bloom of a flower and drop of a leaf, a new restaurant opens. Not just any restaurant, of course, an establishment promising to be the trendiest and greatest eatery on earth. It hitches its wagon to the latest food trend or banks on the universal fact that everyone has to eat, why not make it special and eat here? Yet most restaurants fail within a few years. But we all know trends come and go and the restaurant scene is already crowded, leading to the ultimate truth: if you’re offering a place to dine, you can’t just get it right, you have to consistently exceed expectations.
While other culinary zeitgeists have had their 15 minutes before inevitably fizzling out, one stalwart has stood the test of time: the steakhouse. Through decades, the steakhouse menu has remained fairly stagnant—steak, potatoes, creamed spinach…yet, it has never fallen from its stylish pedestal. What makes this standard-bearer the king of all seasons?
“People simply like steak,” said Tony Scotto, whose Scotto Restaurant Group owns Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville among several other restaurant and catering venues. Scotto is right, we’re a culture of carnivores. Despite the rise in vegetarians and vegans, meat may just be our favorite food group. There is a delicious directness to steak that has held for eons, no magic or trickery is required. “There is no desire to reinvent the wheel. Any dish that relies on the simplicity of quality ingredients cooked by talented hands will stand the test of time,” said Michael Bohlsen, who co-owns Tellers in Islip with his brother Kurt, along with Prime in Huntington and Connecticut, as well as several other restaurant concepts. “I often find that, the more complicated a dish, the shorter its 15 minutes of fame.”
The best steakhouses know they simply can’t throw any foodstuff on a plate and expect it to last. Ingredients matter. Product matters. “The work is put into procuring the best possible ingredients,” Bohlsen said.
And it takes an investment of time to make a classic. Lasting steakhouses dry-age their meats for typically 21 to 45 days. It’s a vital process in procuring the perfect steak, said Gillis Poll. Gillis and his brother George have helmed Bryant & Cooper in Roslyn since 1986 when the venue became a key outpost of the Miracle Mile and “Steakhouse Row” grandeur. Although Poll Restaurants has evolved to include a variety of offerings, Bryant & Cooper remains a mainstay as much for the restaurant as for the adjoining butcher shop where devotees find cuts with a distinct tenderness. “The dry-aged process involves the breakdown of enzymes in the meat, which allows for extra tenderness and bit of a nutty flavor.”
But steakhouses are still restaurants and need to be inclusive—even to those who may not be looking for the signature product. “A great steakhouse menu has a good variety of prime cuts of steaks and chops, the freshest seafood and jumbo lobsters,” Poll said. “Also important are a variety of great sides of potatoes and vegetables to complement the meal.” Scotto, who has added a sushi component to Blackstone, advocates an assortment of offerings. “We have everything: steak, lots of fish, lots of side orders, light fare, a lot of specials and a wine list with 825 different wines.”
Perhaps most importantly, these steakhouses recognize the full experience of dining out. “A restaurant is a package: the place itself, the food, the service. That’s what makes it great. It’s never one thing,” Scotto said. Poll echoed the sentiment and gave the key to why these three eateries have succeeded for so long: “A great restaurant is a place that knows who they are, understands what is expected of them and has a keen sense of what their guests want even before they know themselves.”