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Frankie & Johnnie's Steakhouse. Photo by Toshi Tasaki

 

 

6 exceptional Hudson Valley Steakhouses

By Andrew Dominick

 

Nothing screams “classic American” the way a juicy steak does. Okay, maybe BBQ is its cultural equal, but when it comes to any special occasion, or that “treat yourself” kind of night, a big hunk of beef in a terrific restaurant always satisfies those carnivorous cravings.

We’re spoiled with plenty of establishments offering dry-aged, (hopefully) medium-rare options throughout the Hudson Valley, but we think these ones are worth the trip — and the splurge.

 


Opened by two veterans of Peter Luger in Brooklyn, you can put full faith in the chefs at Benjamin Steakhouse. Photos courtesy of Benjamin Restaurant Group

 

— Benjamin Steakhouse —

White Plains

The sizzle of the steak’s exterior. The bubbling of the butter. It’s beef you can hear before it arrives in front of you. Then, tableside, a waiter spoons hot, melted butter all over the porterhouse, inducing hunger pangs and potential drooling.

If this sounds very New York City, it kind of is.

Brothers-in-law Benjamin Sinanaj and Benjamin Prelvukaj (Prelvukaj’s sister is married to Sinanaj) got their inspiration from decades of service at the famed Peter Luger in Brooklyn, where they learned how to run a successful steakhouse. That city vibe they learned carried over to Benjamin Steakhouse, where the dining room buzzes like a hotspot — even in suburban White Plains. It’s a favorite for birthdays, anniversaries, business meetings, or a well-deserved night out. It’s pricey, but the staff treats its guests like royalty. Next to their red meat, hospitality is what they’re known for.

Whichever milestone you’re reveling in, do it with the aforementioned porterhouse and a fine wine. “We dry-age (Pat LaFrieda) steaks for four weeks, 6–8 weeks when we do a tomahawk special,” said manager Albert Belegu. “We also have over 500 bottles of wine and were given the Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator.”

Aside from one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten — seriously, I cut the porterhouse filet with a fork —the thick-cut bacon earns high praise. It’s not super salty. It’s this mix of charred, crispy, pork-fatty, and marries well with Benjamin’s kind-of-sweet signature sauce.

 


Located at the edge of the Catskills, The Phoenician is a hidden gem with delicious dry-aged steaks and other options like rack of lamb. Photos by Teresa Horgan

 

— The Phoenician —

Phoenicia

Mike Ricciardella jokes that Phoenicia is overpopulated, “Yeah, we’ve got a lot — 500 people.”

If you’ve never been to this Catskills hamlet, you might wonder why Ricciardella, a lifer in the restaurant business, would open anything — let alone multiple restaurants — here. “Families that live here do come in, but there’s a lot of tourism from skiers, hikers, and fishermen,” he says.

The place itself has that ski lodge feel to it; high ceilings, a fireplace, classy but not stuffy.

Food-wise, it’s quintessential steakhouse fare: grass-fed and Prime beef, with a focus on fresh seafood. Raw-bar oysters and clams get shucked and sucked down on the regular, and Flintstones-like 45-day aged tomahawks and 50-day aged porterhouse steaks for two are menu mainstays. Pies and cakes are homemade.

At the bar, expect an above-average brown liquor list, but the beer list is also impressive. Most of the draft list reps Upstate New York to the fullest with usual suspects from Catskill Brewery, Ommegang, Sloop, West Kill, Woodstock Brewing, and Southern Tier.

 


An Orange County favorite, Schlesinger's is the culimination of owner Neil Schlesinger's long career in the food business. After 25 years at this cozy location in New Windsor, Schlesinger's still has a fiercely loyal following and Neil still butchers the steaks himself. Photos courtesy of Schlesinger's Steakhouse

 

— Schlesinger’s Steakhouse —

New Windsor

During busy traffic on NY-300, you could buzz right by Schlesinger’s Steakhouse. I almost did, and that was my destination! Locals don’t make that mistake when it comes to this 25-year-old steak and seafood joint at the historic Brewster House, where some of George Washington’s troops allegedly resided during the Revolutionary War.

For owner Neil Schlesinger, restaurants weren’t the plan when he was enrolled in a master’s program at Syracuse. “There was a place called Cosmo’s on the edge of campus, and I’d sit at the counter,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that the cooks could memorize all the orders, so I became friends with the owner, and said, ‘I gotta learn how to do this.’”

He worked his way up from filling salt and pepper shakers and cleaning coffee urns, to eventual ownership of numerous ventures that included the Steak Loft micro-chain with his partner at the time, Steve Rubell of Studio 54 fame.

The result of it all is Schlesinger’s Steakhouse, where they use the same beef as Peter Luger, and dry-age it in-house. Schlesinger himself still butchers every thick-cut steak daily. Don’t miss the extra juicy, cooked-to-perfection bone-in cuts (ribeye, strip, porterhouse), the maple bacon (it’s not listed, just ask for it!), or the snappy, ice-cold bite of each shrimp cocktail.

Bonus! Schlesinger’s has an alter ego! The other side of the restaurant is a cigar lounge. If the mood strikes you after a red meat feast, head over for a stogie and plop down on a leather couch for a chill session.

 

Chewing the Fat

What’s marbling? What’s a Delmonico or a Denver? Well-done?! Well, that’s offensive.


Photo by Teresa Horgan


Think you’re a beef connoisseur? Think again. There’s a lot to learn, so we grilled (pun intended!) a couple of experts on how to pick out out a proper steak, seasoning and cooking methods, and even those trendy, tasty cuts you need to sink your teeth into.

Chris Pascarella and Lisa Hall, owners of the newly expanded Marbled Meat Shop in Cold Spring, and Dean Tripp, co-owner of Locust Grove Smokehouse in Argyle, share their beefy knowledge.

The first step is steak selection. It should come as no surprise that the filet, rib-eye, New York strip, and porterhouse are the most popular cuts, but that’s not the main indicator for a tender steak. “What anyone should look for is good marbling in the meat,” Tripp said. “Marbling usually points to tenderness; Prime will have the most, then Choice. Select has the least.”

Pascarella suggests talking with your butcher about where and how the animal was raised, and corroborates the marbling tip. After all, his shop is named after beef fat. “Fat got a bad rap in the ’80s and ’90s, but it’s the bad fat that comes from poorly raised animals that is the issue,” he says. “Good, clean fat from healthy pastured animals is actually good for you — in moderation, of course, just like anything else.”

Aside from the usual steak suspects, there are lesser known (but tasty) alternatives. Pascarella mentions the Denver over a NY strip because of its incredible intramuscular fat content. Also “the Delmonico, the first few steaks cut off of the chuck eye, similar to a boneless rib-eye, but several dollars cheaper per pound.”

For Tripp, a spice rub is optional. “I like a blend of garlic, onion, and black pepper, then salt after it’s cooked,” he says. “Cook it rare to medium rare. The more you cook it, the less tender it will be.”

Pascarella adds, “If you have a stellar steak or burger, it’s a really satisfying experience.”

 


Frankie & Johnnie's Steakhouse graduated from banned booze to succulent steaks. The focus at these restaurants in Rye and Manhattan is uncomplicated, quality beef with not even butter to distract from the prime cuts and secret seasoning. Photos by Toshi Tasaki

 

— Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse —

Rye

During Prohibition Era NYC, Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse was a speakeasy. Legend has it that patrons knocked on an unmarked door and used the codeword “Frankie” when the peephole opened. The word “Johnnie” had to follow for admission to free-flowing booze. After Repeal Day, they changed their concept from bar to chophouse, but kept the secret lingo as the restaurant’s name.

For Vas Mylonas, Frankie & Johnnie’s is more than just a former hidden bar, it’s a family business.

Mylonas runs the show at the Westchester “branch,” a fitting moniker since it was the former Rye Trust Bank, a stunning space with a large stained-glass window, high ceilings, and all-original chic woodwork.

What Mylonas and his family preach in each of their three locations is “quality.”

That quality is evident in the food. The steaks here aren’t saturated in butter. In fact, there’s none at all. F&J’s likes to let the meat shine. Steaks are rubbed with a secret spice blend, then into a 1600° broiler. The end result is a perfect criss-cross sear pattern and a succulent, rich piece of beef.

Don’t stop at just steak! The rest of the menu at Frankie & Johnnie’s — executed by an alum of Marlow and Sons, chef Nick Aufiero — consists of seasonal, composed dishes. Don’t sleep on their fresh-made pastas like the creamy, peppery classic cacio e pepe.

Oh, and if you’re drinking, the wines range from affordable to wow, and there’s plenty of fine whiskey and bourbon including 20- and 23-year Pappy Van Winkle.

 


A neighborhood joint whose current home boasts a history of steakhouses, Char embodies classic traditions like prix-fixe dinners and an unlimited salad bar. The friendly atmosphere is accompanied by serious cooking, with tender steak cuts and decadent desserts. Photos by Teresa Horgan

 

— Char Steakhouse & Bar —

Mahopac

Char is one of the anomalies on this list. It’s more of a neighborhood spot than the rest. One of those reasons might be because of its owner. Putnam County residents know Richard Megna from Rick’s Seafood, which opened in Mahopac in 2001. Megna sold the seafood joint a few years ago. “I was looking for change, and wanted to do something on my own,” he said.

A self-proclaimed fan of the Chuck’s Steakhouse micro-chain, Megna took over a space that’s been a few different steakhouses and even a hotel. Local spot? Yes. But it’s not a sleepy one! Both the bar and restaurant can fill up quickly on weekends and peak dinner times.

Char is a throwback to steakhouses of old with affordable prix-fixe dinners on select days, and a prime rib special with unlimited salad bar (a nod to Chuck’s) on Wednesday nights. Broiled Angus Beef porterhouses and rib-eyes are popular, but their petite filet is so tender you barely have to apply much knife pressure.

 


The evolution from chophouse to bistro lets the culinary team at Flatiron get creative, but not at the expense of their steak offerings. Photos by Jessica Stingo

 

— Flatiron Restaurant —

Red Hook

Ten years ago, Jessica Stingo and her husband, Craig Stafford, opened Flatiron as a chophouse, but it has evolved since then. “Now I consider it an American-style bistro,” Jessica says. “Craig (who’s also the chef) got bored just cooking steaks, so we change the menu up six times per year.”

Don’t worry, steaks are still a force on the menu. When you eat here — and you absolutely should —you’re not getting à la carte steak-on-a-plate, you’re getting a cohesive, seasonally inspired dish. On my visit, the prime ribeye with duck fat mushrooms and fingerling potatoes 86’ed in about an hour…on a blustery, cold Wednesday night. All steaks, except the grilled hangar steak frites, are cast-iron pan-seared, resulting in a perfectly charred crust.

Besides steaks, there’s a lot more greatness in the form of house-baked bread, homemade sauces, both savory and sweet soufflés, and they grind their own burger meat using steak trimmings. As you can imagine, a restaurant that does damn near everything from scratch would have a solid cocktail program in addition to a handful of taps, one of which features a brew from the nearby acclaimed Suarez Family Brewery.

Consider me hooked on this Red Hook gem.

Afterward, save some room for an airy slice of cheesecake, made by “Donald,” an 80-something local who bakes this staple steakhouse dessert for a few area restaurants using his late wife’s recipe.

 

More Prime Selections

I know, I know, we forgot your favorite! That’s entirely possible. It’s fine to state your beef!

Three things. One: No corporate chains! Two: We tried to vary it up, but we couldn’t deny that Westchester is loaded with great steakhouses. Three: We didn’t want two places that were too similar in regard to their menus or overall vibe.

Still, here are a bunch of others that you should keep in mind when you’re hankering for a steak.


Photo by the Harris Company

Angelo's 677 Prime, Albany: Think “fancy” at this upscale steakhouse in the state capital. Dress to impress and dig into something aged or try the wagyu, big spender. If it’s not date night, bring your crew for one of the large-format dinners (order 48 hours in advance): 10 pounds of Hong Kong-style lobster or a giant foie gras-stuffed beef Wellington.

Augie’s Prime Cut, Mohegan Lake: They’ve got it all when it comes to popular cuts and roasted prime rib choices in double-cut and 28-ounce bone-in selections. Seafood is no slouch either, with colossal shrimp and king crab legs on the menu.


Photo by Ken Goodman

Cellaio, Resorts World Catskills, Monticello: This Hudson Valley newcomer, with Scott Conant at the helm, has an Italian-inspired steakhouse menu that is updated with each season, a raw bar, and a wine selection with more than 500 options.

Hudson Valley Steakhouse, Yorktown Heights: All the common steakhouse fare, although jumbo three-pound lobsters are the starts of the show at this higher end spot.

Sapore Steakhouse, Fishkill: If you're not in the mood for their reasonably priced aged Prime cuts, choose from plenty of stellar seafood, plus five different wild game options.