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Sep 30, 2009 06:39 AM

Keens Review + Photos

I know there's an ongoing (lifetime) debate over Keens and Peter Luger with very passionate defenders on both sides. Here's my take:

I went into my dinner at Keens Steakhouse with an extremely open mind. I’m a lover of Peter Luger, but I was under the impression that $90 steak is $90 steak wherever you go, and I was excited about the scotch-and-cigars atmosphere of Keens.

I hadn’t known to specify in my reservation that my boyfriend and I wanted to sit in main dining room, so I was worried when all of the people in front of us were sent to different parts of the restaurant, but we were luckily seated downstairs under the ceiling entirely covered in clay tobacco pipes. The atmosphere is much darker and cozier than Luger’s, with dark walls and low light to contrast Luger’s whitewashed walls and bright windows shining in the midst of nowhere Brooklyn. This is the place you come to slurp oysters and talk about the things gentlemen do.

None of the appetizers enticed us in the least–though I’m sure my boyfriend wouldn’t jumped at the $65 seafood platter had I given him any indication that I was interested–so we opted for two side dishes with our slab of meat instead. We ordered the porterhouse for two, carrots with brown butter, and boiled baby potatoes with parsley and butter. For the record, any kind of restaurant with a separate menu section entirely for potatoes is my kind of restaurant.

We ordered our steak medium rare, because that’s how my boyfriend likes it, and I prayed that it’d be served on a hot dish like it is at Luger so I could allow my pieces to continue to cook. It was indeed, but we really didn’t need it to be, because the ends were so much darker than the middle that they were perfect for me and my desire for blackened beef.

Right away, I noticed that the plate just didn’t look as good as it does at Luger. The steak was smaller, and it was already cut off the bone. The bone was pathetically propped up on one end of the plate, which was almost worse than it not being there at all. I waited a minute to give our server a chance to put several slices on my plate like the waiters do at Luger, but he just walked away. It’s not that I even like that they put the steak right on your plate at Luger, but I somehow expected it.

The first bite of steak was just as juicy and steaky as any great steak I’ve had, but after that, I honestly believe that I could tell a difference between it and the steak at Luger. To be super, super honest, I think the steak I had at Primehouse ( might have actually been better than this one, but I don’t want to say that and risk losing my cred and having people think my palate is inferior.

There's no doubt, though, that the sides we chose were better than anything we've had at Luger. My boyfriend said the cooked carrots were the best he's had; we loved all of the butter left in the dish for spooning over our plates. The potatoes were the kind you close your eyes to savor completely.

My boyfriend ordered the crème brûlée, and I excitedly told him about a review I'd read in which the writer gushed about the deep dish that left plenty of cool custard underneath the layer of custard warmed by the torching of the sugar on top. What the reviewer failed to remind us was that a deeper versus wider dish meant there was a lot less caramel to enjoy.

However, everything I read about the hot fudge sundae was true. The woman at the table next to us was so impressed by the look of it that she leaned over to ask what it was. What it was was a giant cocktail glass filled with hot fudge an inch deep, several scoops of vanilla AND chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, slivered almonds, and wafer triangles. My boyfriend complained that the whipped cream didn’t compare to the schlag at Luger, but I was too busy having a heart attack over how much the hot fudge tasted just like my mom’s homemade sauce to notice.

I wanted to like Keens better than Peter Luger so I could stick to Manhattan when I want a great steak, but it looks like I’m stuck traveling to Brooklyn when I want to impress someone with a stack of meat. Keens wins for atmosphere, service, sides, and desserts hands down, though. And for saving me $20 on cab fare.

A few photos of the meal are located here:

Keens Steak House
72 West 36th St., New York, NY 10018

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  1. what a great report - thank you. Curious what you think of Wolfgangs Park vs. Lugars?

    2 Replies
    1. re: shanshan

      Sorry, I haven't been to Wolfgang's, but maybe this will encourage the boyfriend to take me.

      1. re: plumpdumpling

        I've been to both but I had my wedding reception at Wolfgang's. Listen, I'm not saying that Lugar's is a bad steak because it's not. It's amazing. But, at Wolfgang's, their back room and staff is so inviting that you can't help but love the place. I think there's a reason why it's consistently one of the top 10 steakhouses in the country. Again, not that Lugar's isn't. Just my option. And Wolfgang's makes a martini so good I could have it for breakfast. Lastly, the bacon. Damn that bacon.

    2. Okay, I'll fess up. I know a good steak from a bad one. But I don't know that I know an excellent steak from The Very Best.

      I have no complaints about Luger's, but the whole experience is such a workout that unless I feel a special need to go there, I'd rather go to Keens. It's an excellent steak, and a nice experience over all.

      8 Replies
      1. re: egit

        I didn't think I knew the difference, either, but it was pretty apparent to me that night. I'm sure it's just a matter of personal taste, though, and what I like about Luger other people like about Keens.

        I sorta feel the same way about traveling to Luger. Even though I live in Williamsburg, it still seems like it's in the middle of nowhere.

        1. re: plumpdumpling

          The place is great, as is Luger, so this review is not meant to contest either's quality. I'd rather not have to go to Brooklyn for a cool steakhouse experience, since I don't live in the City. I'm one of those Long Islanders who does not eschew New York City, but still embraces it, so it's not exactly a hardship to travel for a nice restaurant. Our friends are the same--all former denizens of the city who moved out to start families.

          Steak. We must be talking about a dining experience when we discuss steak, because everything served at a steakhouse, even one of note, is obtainable and fairly simple to achieve at home. I can get a beautifully aged prime steak of any cut I desire, a great wine, the same Scotch, a Caesar salad or, I mean come on--a wedge of iceberg lettuce costs HOW much at your restaurant? This will sound pompous, but, my own creamed spinach blows away any I've had at any steakhouse anyway, and even if yours doesn't you're not going to suffer much without creamed spinach when you, too, toss your great steak on the grill or pan cook it to perfect doneness. And, last I checked, a potato is, well, a potato.

          So we're talking better establishment here, and we're talking best steak between the two places. Are we talking price? Puhleeze--a good steakhouse is a man-made ripoff of the most grandiose proportions no matter how you slice it, you should pardon the pun., therein lies the rub (again I beg your forbearance). To slice or not to slice? For my money, Keen's wins. It wins because it doesn't allow a silly affectation of a waiter making more of this slab of beast than it truly is. It wins because it doesn't treat me like a child and cut my meat for me. I'm not someone given to the charms of another human handling my food before my eyes, whether it's a waiter de-shelling a lobster or a knife-tossing Benihana cook. Much as I like the company of the friendly sushi chef, I don't usually sit at the sushi bar. I prefer a table, where I can't see the chef's hands molding the thing with his bare hands that I'm going to plunk into my mouth in short order.

          Keen's also gives me my very own steak on my very own plate. Another reason I prefer that is that I always seem to be the guy who gets the 3 pieces with the most gristle and fat, when ordering porterhouse for two, replete with slicing service. I don't complain when I see the guy placing those 3 gristly slices on my plate, but I again have a lousy porterhouse experience. Well, not lousy. We ARE talking about Peter Luger, after all. But, it's not, shall we say, what it could be.

          So, there, I've said it. Keen's wins on every level it can, other than quality. It wins in terms of decor and location, and the fact that either after or before my meal, I can see a play, a film, a concert as well, and make it an entire evening's doings. If I have to go to Brooklyn for a good steak, that's ALL I'm doing, and certain to go home afterward.

          Keen's steaks are smaller and maybe not completely, absolutely, totally as good. But pound for pound, I'll take Keen's.

          Keens Steak House
          72 West 36th St., New York, NY 10018

          1. re: Clambelly

            I have to disagree with you on several points in your post.

            Keens pre-slices their porterhouse for two also. I have never had it but I am sure they do the same for their chateaubriand. Actually ALL steakhouses do....Any steak that is meant for more than one person will be pre-sliced by the steakhouse for you.

            And to say that you can get a steakhouse meal at home .. well I don't totally agree with that either. The thing that makes a steakhouse meal special is the quality of meat that you get and the broilers that they use. I do not know about you but my local supermarket or butcher does not carry the prime dry-aged meats (30 days) that steakhouses produce. My oven also does not go up to 1700 degrees to get that signature steakhouse char.

            A potato is a potato? Well maybe a plain baked one. But I also cannot replicate the incredible taste of the french fries at Peter Luger or Keens, which are fried in the beef fat they use from their glorious meat. Or what about the goose fat potatoes from Strip House? I do not have any goose fat in my house to fry in.. don't have a deep fryer for that matter.

            Again you are entitled to your own opinion, however I think that you should reconsider the worth of a steakhouse meal. Yes ambience plays a part, yes it is an expensive meal. But in the opinion of others (myself included) a great steakhouse meal cannot be replicated. Maybe it is because steak is my favorite food on earth. Maybe it is because I am a bloody cow craving male and the whole steakhouse aura gets my masculine juices running. Who knows. But one thing you know is you will have plenty of great food, great service, feel sated, and overall great experience.

            Can I cook a great steak to my desired doneness at home on my grill? Yes, and most of the time I can probably get it exactly bloody rare like I like it (many steakhouses still have a problem with this). But to be completely fair there is something special about a steakhouse meal that you cannot get anywhere else.

            1. re: steakrules85

              Well said my friend. The temp of the oven completly eliminates the ability to replicate a steakhouse steak at home even if you had the same meat quality.

              1. re: steakrules85


                One does not have to be "a bloody cow craving male" for Keens to get the juices flowing. Other than that, this female agrees with everything you said! And, btw, Keens is our favorite NYC steakhouse.

                Photos of our most recent dinner at Keens:

                1. re: steakrules85

                  I totally agree with you steakrules. I have though been able to get a nice char on my steaks at home by pan searing them frozen. The additional time to cook gets you to add a nice crust while the insides stays red and juicy. But the quality of the meat is not the same.
                  Cool! I never knew Luger's and Keen's fry their fries in beef fat. Do any other steak places do this? I almost never get fries at a steak place, I have to start trying the ones that fry in beef fat. Everything is so much better in animal fat, I can make a piece of crap delicious in bacon drippings.

                  1. re: steakrules85

                    Actually I find you can certainly get close at home.

                    My favorite cut is a bone in rib eye, and you can get it prime and dry aged from, say, Lobel's or Citarella (Fairway has dry aged too, but I find it not quite as good as these two). When you chuck two, or three, or four (the more the merrier) of those well marbled, 1 1/2" thick beauties on your red hot (outdoor) grill, the fat will begin to render out and drip onto the burner, and soon those lumps of bovine goodness are engulfed in flames hot enough to sear those babies to the toothsome char we all crave. When I cook four steaks there's so much fat burning it gets downright scary sometimes! I'm lucky the neighbors havent called the fire department. Dont over cook it (for God's sake!), let it rest and you've got all crusty and black on the outside, all red within. Jesus, my mouth is watering.

                    I agree, french fries are next to impossible without a deep fryer and I dont have one so I dont try; home fries it is. But I do agree with Clambelly, creamed spinach isn't rocket science.

                    Now, that having been said, what compares to taking a seat in your favorite well appointed emporium of meaty magnificence, wallowing in that opulent atmosphere and having someone else do all this for you? Well, nothing, actually ;-)

                    PS The other day I asked Citarella if they could replicate the Keen's mutton chop (that 2" slice through the whole saddle) and they said absolutely! Oh baby, I'm so

                    1. re: steakrules85

                      Well, I guess I stand corrected. After reading your passionate take on steak and steak houses, I feel I've been educated. It's not my favorite cuisine, and I have probably spoken out of school. I honestly never considered your well-enumerated points, especially the beef tallow deep frying, which I should have remembered. The steak I can get, but I'd be buying it from equally expensive places, which would pretty much negate the expected benefit of avoiding the extra cost of the restaurant. I do have a pro stove, so that wasn't a good point either because most people don't. So far, most of my points have been defeated, but I'm grateful to you nonetheless, the slight sarcasm notwithstanding. If you walk the walk, you have every right to talk the talk.

                      But I have to take umbrage at one thing: I'd already decided to try the $26 burger at Minetta Tavern, made from dry-aged, prime brisket, rib eye and prime rib, and now you've rekindled my appetite for a really fine steak at either Pete's or Keen's. My appetite now whet, perhaps my long absence from either place has elicited my misguided, posting. But, I'm going to have to send you the bill. I'll keep it down to 2 Scotches though.

                      Minetta Tavern
                      113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

              2. Comparing Peter Luger to Keen's doesn't really work. Peter Luger specializes in cuts of meat for multiple people so they have to slice it prior to serving. Keen's is a steakhouse that specializes in single serving steaks so it's all yours and you can cut it how you like it.

                I personally am not a big fan of the pre-sliced meat and prefer Keen's approach but they really aren't similar experiences so a comparison doesn't work unless it's just the quality of one vs. the other.

                1 Reply
                1. re: stephaniec25

                  I guess I just expect that if I'm paying the same price at both places, the porterhouse will be the same quality. Maybe Keens has to charge more for not-quite-as-good porterhouse to pay for their Manhattan location, though.

                  I'm not sure what you mean about Keens not pre-slicing, though. Our steak arrived cut off the bone and into chunks.

                2. i like keens and they have great steaks but i'd almost rather just go there for lunch and order the steak salad from the pub instead of spending an evening there for dinner. before you make the trip back to lugers, try strip house.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: tkm616

                    I haven't read anything super-great about Strip House, but I'd like to hear why you recommend it.

                    1. re: plumpdumpling

                      i'm a luger fan myself and try to go as much as possible but when i can't get to brooklyn, strip house has always been my go-to steak house after trying all the others. i think every steak house has its signature steak (luger's porterhouse, spark's shell, keen's mutton chop, strip house's.. strip) so i'm not saying that it's a better steak house than luger or any other top steak house but, i suggest that you go and try the bone-in strip steak and get the truffle creamed spinach and goose fat potatoes. it's my favorite steak and sides in manhattan.

                      1. re: tkm616

                        Wow wow wow. Those sides sound AMAZING. Thanks for the suggestion!

                  2. Of course you're totally entitled to your opinion.. but I'll opine. Of course everyone knows Peter Luger is my favorite restaurant. But I must say Keens is another favorite for me. I think it is just an incredible steakhouse from top to bottom. The food, service, atmosphere is tough to beat. Here are a few takeaways from your review..

                    1. The main dining room is actually not the best place to dine at Keens. For me upstairs is much nicer, particularly the Bull Moose Room. Awesome place and great atmosphere.

                    2. You really shouldn't want a prime dry-aged steak (or any steak for that matter) cooked more than medium rare (Bloody rare for me).

                    3. Keens best steak is unequivocally their porterhouse for two. The only other "single" steak I would ever consider ordering there is their incredible King;s cut bone-in prime rib.

                    4. The carrots are seriously delicious. But you should have also did yourself the pleasure of ordering their fries and creamed spinach. Truly some of the best.

                    5. Hot fudge sundae is definitely a winner. Instead of the creme brulee, I would suggest the coffee cantanta or perhaps their season cobbler which is on the menu sometimes. They also do a great bananas foster but with the sundae I understand that that is too much ice cream.

                    6. Agree on appetizers.. not that interesting but then again you are hear for the steak.

                    7. Most important- NEVER should Primehouse be mentioned in the same sentence as Keens. That place is not even in the same stratosphere.

                    25 Replies
                    1. re: steakrules85

                      say what you will but keens is a better restaurant than peter lugers for the last 5 years.

                      1. re: steakrules85

                        Number 7 is a ridiculous comment. I could say the same about Peter Lugers based on the last few steaks I've had there. The OP said the steak was better at Primehouse than Peter Lugers. I don't agree but her opinion is her opinion and shes entitled to it.

                        To the OP: The only part I don't understand is that the you say that compared to Peter Lugers, the steak tasted better at Primehouse and the sides were much better at Keens, so why would you still hold Lugers as the place to go to impress?

                        1. re: ESNY

                          I prefaced it by saying everyone is entitled to their opinion so don't get all crazy, Those were MY opinions.

                          1. re: ESNY

                            Well, I said I'd choose Luger when I want to impress someone "with a stack of meat". If steak is the most important factor in the meal, I still think Luger's is better. But if I'm considering all factors (atmosphere, service, the rest of the menu), I'd choose Keens.

                          2. re: steakrules85

                            I like your breakdown of Keens, steakrules - I agree with everything except I love the single-serving steaks there. I also LOVE the mutton chop of course.

                            I particularly agree about not cooking a steak above medium rare - above that level most steaks end up tasting the same (obviously there are exceptions but I am talking about prime dry-aged as steakrules comments)

                            Primehouse was one of the worst steakhouses in the city, in my opinion. Others might like the very modern and "club" type atmosphere but I wasn't a fan and the steaks just weren't good enough to make up for the dizzying black and white floors.

                            1. re: steakrules85

                              This is for you, steakrules, but I guess I forgot to reply to your comment specifically:

                              1. Since dining there, I've seen pictures of the Bull Moose Room, and I agree. I'd say whoever said dining in the main room was best was like me and hadn't seen the other rooms.

                              2. I know that's what they say, but I was raised on a cattle farm and grew up eating my steak super-well-done. (I have no idea what my family was thinking.) I still have a taste for burned meat, but I try to eat it as rare as I can to make other people happy.

                              4. Creamed spinach was our third choice, so I'm sure we'll get it next time.

                              5. What is the coffee cantata? I read review after review of how great it is, but no one explained WHAT it is.

                              7. I think I remember you yelling at me in my Primehouse review for liking it so much, but even my boyfriend with the golden palate agrees that I had a holy filet that night. Maybe I just got lucky.

                              1. re: plumpdumpling

                                Just to add more... I will agree with tkm616 regarding Strip House. That is another favorite of mine and it is a remarkable steakhouse. Steak, sides, atmosphere are all top notch. The one thing I will disagree with is what their best steak is- for me the best steak is their porterhouse. The bone-in ribeye is also better than their strip. I am not a huge strip guy myself, so it is obviously a personal preference. But the goose fat potatoes, black truffle creamed spinach, romanoff potatoes, and creamed corn with pancetta are all amazing. Especially that creamed corn.. one of the best sides I have ever eaten. They probably have the best selection of sides out of any steakhouse. Desserts are insane too.. huge slabs of chocolate cake and cheesecake. The chocolate profiterole is terrific too.

                                To answer your Keens questions...

                                Coffee cantata is coffee ice cream with hot fudge, nuts, whipped cream, and raspberry sauce. Truly decadent and some of the most intense coffee ice cream ever!

                                Regarding Primehouse- I think their steak stinks. They have great mac and cheese and the truffle fries are awesome. But I do not go to a steakhouse with great sides and subpar steak. I am there first and foremost for the meat. Period.

                                1. re: steakrules85

                                  i've never actually had their porterhouse because i like the strip and don't care too much for filet. when i want a more tender cut of meat, i'll usually choose ostrich over beef. i will definitely try their ribeye next time i go. thanks for the suggestion.

                                    1. re: steakrules85

                                      steakrules: what do you think of Wolfgangs?

                                  1. re: steakrules85

                                    Hi steakrules!

                                    Strip House sounds so yummy that I'm looking forward to a return visit! Do you prefer Strip House to the Old Homestead?

                                    1. re: ellenost

                                      I am a huge fan of both Strip House and Old Homestead. Both are in my top 5 steakhouses. I love them both for different things. When picking which is better is like asking me to choose which one of my parents I like better.

                                      Strip House has a really cool atmosphere- You feel like you are in a bordello from years past. Love all the pictures of women and stuff on the walls its amusing. I have already gone into much detail about their food and what I love about the place. Never had a bad thing put in my mouth there.

                                      OH has the best prime rib I have ever had and those old school waiters. Their Gotham Rib Steak is also one of the best ribeyes you will ever consume. Their kobe bacon appetizer is the closest thing to Luger bacon for me. For sides, I love their thick cut steak fries which are the ONLY kind a steakhouse should have and their creamed spinach is one of the best around. One area they lack in is dessert- nothing special. They have also recently refurbished the place and added some beautiful upstairs dining rooms. Definitely a classic.

                                      So overall, I'd say Strip House nudges out OH only because they have a deeper assortment of sides and better desserts. You really can't go wrong at either though.

                                      Shanshan- Never have been to Wolfgang's believe it or not. I have been meaning to try it, if only to see how it stacks up to the original (PL). From what I have read and all it seems to be the best of the offshoots. However, I just haven't been able to bring myself to go when I can just go to the real deal in Brooklyn.

                                      1. re: steakrules85

                                        Great thanks for your analysis. I've made my reservation at the Strip House.

                                        1. re: ellenost

                                          Awesome enjoy and please report back to everyone on!

                                          1. re: steakrules85

                                            I will (but my reservation is for the end of December).

                                    2. re: steakrules85

                                      This is an amusing and instructive debate, viewed from afar as one who has a track record at both Keens and Luger....

                                      1. re: hazelhurst

                                        And you're not going to weigh in?! I guess you must love them equally.

                                        1. re: plumpdumpling

                                          Well, I grew up with Christ Cella and when that went south we switched full-time to Luger. In NYC after Luger we'd go to Keen's a good bit, expecally when I was young and the pipes were still in play. I got mad at them when they dropped "Chop House" from the name but the last few times I have been were fine...usually having lamb. Better than some recent trips to Gallagher's. But Luger is the only one I have seen that comes close to the thin cremated outside while leaving the inside good and red. And steak-for-three is usually enough for four people. I don't worry about the spinach etc..for me Luger has done those sides the way they were always done and that is OK by me. True, the wine cold be better but then it wouldn't be Luger's would it?

                                          1. re: hazelhurst

                                            Love this thread, because I love NYC steakhouses: Lugers, Wolfgangs, Frankie & Johnnie's, Ben Bensons, Smith & Wollensky. But I've tried Gallaghers twice: wont get fooled again. The meat locker entrance is spectacular. The product coming out of their, not so much.

                                            We're trying Keen's this trip. Apprieciate all of the input on this board.

                                            Smith & Wollensky
                                            797 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022

                                            Ben Benson's
                                            123 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019

                                            Frankie & Johnnie's
                                            269 W 45th St, New York, NY 10036

                                            1. re: dcruz54152

                                              I am making my first trip to Keens next Wed night. So psyched. Definitely going with the Coffee Canata and Hot Fudge Sundae for dessert. Not sure on the Porterhouse, Mutton or Prime Rib for entree. Rough decisions I know.

                                              1. re: princeofpork

                                                yeahh. im going next satuday. im definately getting the mutton but im not sure about the porterouse or prime rib. the sides are also hard choices for me. ill ask if i can get the prime rib hash. and ill probably get onion rings or fries since its fried in beef fat. but i feel like getting a side no one really gets like the cauliflower or string beans something just to try.

                                                1. re: daffyduck

                                                  You really don't need fries if you're getting the prime rib hash with the mutton chop.

                                                  1. re: daffyduck

                                                    I recoomend the porterhouse or prime rib.While the mutton chop is awesome, I could never bring myself to order anything but steak in a steakhouse. For sides the fries (a must), cauliflower, carrots, creamed spinach, and mushrooms are all terrific.

                                                  2. re: princeofpork

                                                    We were just there tonight. Phenomenal as always. If you don't have two people who want to share the porterhouse, you can do just as well IMO by ordering the T-bone. The prime rib is phenomenal, and the mutton chop is wonderful too. Coffee cantata is a must.

                                          2. re: steakrules85

                                            Damn. Sounds like I really missed out on the coffee cantata. I was worried it was going to be some crummy coffee cake, and I wanted ICE CREAM.