A Great Porterhouse at Empire Steak House

The porterhouse for two at Empire Steak House

With all the new and innovative restaurants in New York, it’s easy to forget that the city is brimming with traditional steakhouses, most of which are still as popular as ever. The king of New York steak houses for decades remains Williamsburg’s Peter Luger’s – but many of its enterprising employee alumni have opened ventures in Manhattan that boast comparable porterhouses. One such duo is Ben and Jack Sinanaj, now responsible for two Ben & Jack Steakhouse locations in Manhattan. The brothers spun off Empire Steakhouse in 2010.

The menu at Empire, like at Peter Luger’s, revolves around the porterhouse. Cooked at very high temperatures for a short amount of time, the steak has a great, crispy crust and a juicy interior. The serving plate is heated up to 400 degrees, which keeps the steak sizzling hot for the entire meal. The plate is tilted so the buttery juice collects at the bottom for drizzling. Ours was cooked right to our specifications – a perfect medium rare, with a warm red center and a crispy crust.

While Luger’s is known for their gruff waiters, the traditionally clad staff at Empire tries to be more accommodating, helpfully serving patrons the first portions of steak and sides, and guiding guests to the porterhouse and other key items on the large menu. A nice touch was to stack the slices of porterhouse on top of each other when they arrived to prevent most of them from cooking further on the hot plate, and to give us better access to the juices.

In a neighborhood already loaded with steakhouses – Bobby Van’s, Smith & Wollensky, and Capital Grille, among others, are all nearby – Empire stands out for the true porterhouse experience.

Thick slices of porterhouse with German potatoes and creamed spinach
One slab of bacon with tomato and mozzarella salad

The steakhouse experience is all about celebrating excess. While it is tempting to go right to the steak, if you’re going to do it right, you should start with an appetizer of huge sliced beefsteak tomatoes and mozzarella drizzled with pesto, along with grilled thick slabs of Canadian bacon.

I prefer the tomato, mozzarella, and pesto combination at Empire to the (admittedly fantastic) tomato and onion salad that has grown famous at Luger’s, where they top it (and everything else) with their horseradish steak sauce. A similar sauce is available at Empire, of course, but I was happy to use that for the bacon and enjoy a different flavor with the salad. The bacon, traditionally broiled, appeared to have grill marks at Empire.

The steak is best served with German potatoes and creamed spinach; each order easily serving 2-3 people. The potatoes are buttery and crispy, cooked with sauteed onions and just a little too much salt. The spinach was perfect – not too creamy or watery – one of the better versions of the classic.

The German potatoes

Dessert features a solid cheesecake and a good selection of ports and scotches. After all that meat, why not. This is about excess, after all.

Speaking of excess, I was disappointed by the wine list, which is uninspired and overpriced, particularly on the “lower” end, where it starts with a $55 Kendall Jackson (if $55 can be considered lower end). The list continues with heavy, mostly Californian reds. There are some decent values as you get more expensive, so bring your corporate card.

With such a great steak, the name of the restaurant – Empire – is misplaced, coming off too heavy-handed as an effort to prop themselves up on New York’s name and reputation for great steak. Perhaps the idea is to appeal to out of town corporate customers or suburbanites who want to have a “New York” experience in the Empire State. To a New Yorker, it sounds touristy, which is a shame because Empire Steakhouse is no tourist trap – it is well worth the time and money for a New Yorker in search of a great steak.

Empire Steak House
36 W 52nd St  New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-6900

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  • This looks delicious! My mouth is watering. The tomato and pesto are a nice touch. Great review. This is so close to my work I can bring some new recruits here!

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