Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse. Photo by Toshi Tasaki
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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