The Art of the Lunch Deal: Keen's Steakhouse
"You won't find a more civilized steakhouse."
72 West 36th Street, New York NY 10018; map); 212-947-3636 ; keens.com
Service: Friendlier than your average steakhouse
Setting:An New York institution: the wood paneled walls, flourishes of Americana, and thousands of clay pipes make for an authentic steakhouse experience.
Compare to:Peter Luger's, Old Homestead
Cost: English cut prime rib, $28, sirloin steak, $25
While prime dry aged steaks typically cost between $40 and $50 in steakhouses during peak, dining hours bargains abound at lunch time. I have previously reported on the deals at Primehouse and Peter Luger, and if dry aged prime at wet aged choice prices is what you are after, you can add Keen's Steakhouse to your list. While there are a lot of sandwich, seafood, and salad options on the Keen's lunch menu, I don't think that you go to a steakhouse for such things. You go for honking slabs of beef and mutton. The meat selections from the dinner menu are available during lunch but there are a couple of lunch specials that are real bargains.
The English cut prime rib ($28) comes in two generous slices with a side of string beans. The beef is cut from the same roasts that furnish Keen's gargantuan king's cut of beef served on the bone. It has a deeply pleasing flavor—hearty, robust, and meaty with a buttery tenderness. It comes covered in a toothsome au jus but I recommend getting it on the side; the beef tastes so good that it is a shame to obfuscate its flavors. You can always add after if you don't agree.
The sirloin steak (more commonly referred to as a strip steak on New York menus) comes in an 8-oz portion, which is probably more steak than health experts might consider necessary, but is about half the size of what is most often served at chophouses. As someone who has devoured an alarming number of jumbo-sized prime steaks, I have to admit that I worried that such a small portion would be hard to cook to my preferred temperature, black and blue, but the kitchen turned out a commendably rare steak with a nice exterior crust.
The flavor of the steak was excellent. It had the unmistakable funk of dry aging and a respectable tenderness, although it was not the most intensely marbled piece of meat, as it probably came from the end of the loin. The mountain of crispy golden fries that came along side were very good, if not quite up to what the French enjoy; still, we can console ourselves that our steak is far better.
Despite the bargain offered in prime beef, and the generous inclusion of fries on the steak and string beans on the roast, if you want to balance out the starch with vegetable or vice versa it will cost you. Potatoes start at $7 and can cost as much as $10, which is what a side of creamed spinach will set you back. It is a cynical, albeit shrewd move, on the restaurant's part—but ultimately I think that they would sell more creamed spinach and spuds with these cuts if they sold half portions for lunch.
Keen's is not alone in the practice of course; neither Luger nor Primehouse offer vegetables with their steak and potato lunch specials. While it is true that Luger does serve their prime rib with potatoes and peas, it is a forgettable dish. You could go to Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote if you want some greens with your steak frites, but the steak is not anywhere near as good.
Keen's is easy to recommend, especially for the prime rib. It faces a bit more competition in the strip department but it is still serves a steak that is in the same league as the best in the city, if not at its top. And you won't find a more civilized steakhouse.