Saturday, July 28, 2018

Top Ten and a Hat

The hat, July 29, 2018
It felt like we won everything in sight at the Top Ten Awards during the 1977 national convention in New Orleans. The top ten store managers, area managers and district managers from across the company were chosen based on sales growth, profit and QSC; Quality, Service and Cleanliness. "QSC, QSC, QSC" was the battle cry at KFC throughout my tenure. Our full court press to improve the customer experience arose from the realization the we had been tanking for years. No amount of marketing was going to right the ship unless guests wanted to come back again. There’s an adage that says that the repeat customer is the best customer. That little nugget puts the true back in truism.

The cornerstone of our big QSC push was unannounced inspections of all of our 1,000 company owned stores across the nation. The 100-point inspection was really tough, some said too tough. There was carping from the old timers who had mailed it in for, well, forever. Most of our middle managers were lifers who were mechanics who could fry the hell out of a chicken but couldn’t manage other managers if their lives depended on it. Most were hard drinking ex-college football players who had formed a University of Kentucky Boy’s Club at our headquarters in Louisville and in Detroit, Dallas, LA and South Florida. John Y. Brown, the former Kentucky Governor and previous owner of KFC hadn't helped. He didn't give a lick. Phyliss George's husband, the man who almost killed the Boston Celtics, was a slovenly con-man without a scruple to his name. Come to think of it, he had a lawyer fixer like what'shisname. 

KFC's death rattle meant that two new vice presidents replaced two neanderthals. Joe Johnston, a preppy thirty three year old from Tulsa took over Region Three in the center of the country and I inherited Charlie Rogers' Region One. Look up "good old boy" in your Funk and Wagnalls and you'll find Charlie's headshot. Really nice guy out of his depth.

Joe wore three button suits from Southwick and heavy starched Gant button downs. I wore fitted Italian 140s and too much hair. A little self-awareness would have helped. We were part of a Fortune 500 conglomerate not the fucking Cosa Nostra.

I remember the Red Carpet at the Windsor Court like it was yesterday. 

“Who are you wearing, Steve?” asked the host.

“I’m wearing Lubiam and Bruno Magli." The crowd went wild.

After a year Region One led the company with a 96-point QSC average across its 200 plus stores. The other regions scored in the 80s. When the QSC scores were combined with our sales and financial numbers the case could have been made that we had won all thirty of the Top Ten awards. As it is we won four of the top ten District Manager awards and would have won a fifth but Bill Roquemore, the District Manager in Columbus, had become a Regional Manager at Pizza Hut and he was denied his due. Jim Willey seemed embarrassed when he told me that Bill wasn't selected. “Anyway, this way we can give the other regions a chance.” Meh.

Our final tally was something like fifty-five percent of the awards from twenty percent of the stores. Hair or not.

On the night after the Top Ten Awards and a dirge of mind numbing speeches we staggered to the Old Absinthe House by way of the Acme Oyster House and Preservation Hall. We pounded adult beverages till the sun came up; we being Peggy and me, Bob and Jeanine Buxton from New York, Gary and Brenda McCain from Tidewater and Billy Genovese from Delsaco in Paramus. Delsaco, short for Delicious Salad Company, made our cole saw and book. As the clock ticked 3am a couple of cowboys ambled in from Central Casting. I made 'em for East Texas owing to their hats and brims. Hat crowns and brim shapes are as regional as a South Boston accent.

I exclaimed to nobody in particular, “Man, I want that hat.” “Which one?” Billy asked. “The brown one with the high crown. The tall guy.” I answered.

At that very moment the tall guy with the coffee colored lid went to the men’s room. Billy Genovese followed him in. I thought nothing of it till he came back to the table. “No luck. He won’t sell it.”

“You mean you tried to buy the hat right off his head? You didn’t need to do that.” What I meant was, “Next time I give you a job don’t come back empty handed.”

Don't cry for me, Argentina. Four months later a large package arrived at my Greenwich office. It was from Bob Buxton in New Jersey. When I opened the box, there was the hat. Well, not the actual hat from the Old Absinthe House, that would have been epic, but it was the identical twin of my beloved cognac New West by Bailey in the size of huge.

The hat in 1978

The hat in 1984
Bob, a long time horseman in central Jersey, had trailered a horse for the owner of Jack’s Barn in Farmingdale in trade for an exact copy of my treasured sombrero. I still have the hat and the pictures to prove it. I’ve changed the crown over the years. I learned to steam cowboy hats when I was ten. I did not learn, however, to make it a huge plus. Who knew that heads and feet continue to grow while the rest of us shrinks?

Last thing I heard Bob Buxton is training horses in Oklahoma and I am not a cowboy in Taos, New Mexico.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

New York New York

It wasn’t all cocktail hours and bar crawls in New York in 1976 and 1977. Facing me was the seemingly Quixotic mission of turning around the worst of KFC’s five national regions. My new region was headlined by Metropolitan New York, but also included New York’s southern tier; the Tidewater area of Virginia, Columbus, Pittsburgh, a sliver of West Virginia coal country and one down at the heels city in Massachusetts. 229 company owned stores all told. Region One, anchored by its comatose 68 store NYC district, was the doormat of the nation by every measure; sales growth, profit and operating standards; the thing we called QSC, Quality, Service and Cleanliness. We possessed none of the above.

Just six years has passed since I had been demoted from being Director of Operations of Four n’ 20 Pies, a company I had co-founded, and had been banished to Queens to fix one ailing restaurant. When informing me of my fate my boss, Kurt Kornreich, told me, “I don’t think you’re a top guy.” Those words and the punch they delivered have stayed with me. Yet here I was, a wunderkind on his white horse, riding into New York to save the day.

My entrance on Manhattan’s main stage was an crowd pleaser that’s for sure. The day before I was to take over the market, Colonel Sander’s toured a handful of our Manhattan stores with Mimi Sheraton, the bitch goddess food critic of the New York Times. When she and the Colonel visited the unit on 6th Avenue between Greenwich and Waverly the Colonel came unhinged. The chicken wasn’t fresh. It was supposed to be pressure fried every two hours. You could tell long it had been sitting by its internal temperature which should hover around 170 degrees. That chicken hadn’t seen 140 since day before yesterday. But the gravy, God help us, was mucilage and Harlan Sanders was the original gravy Nazi. The gentleman from Corbin, Kentucky carried a silver tablespoon in breast pocket of his white suit for heaven’s sake. When he tasted the paste, he erupted into an expletive filled tirade which was faithfully recorded by Mimi’s able sword, I mean pen.

Her byline ran in the Times the next morning. And that very afternoon I was to host a press conference at the 21 Club to welcome the Colonel to New York. I couldn’t have wished for a more auspicious start. What does a 34-year-old pup say to Colonel Sanders, whom he has yet to meet, in front of 100 slathering jackals? Let’s just say he deviates from the script he wrote the week before and prostrates himself before the great man. “Thank you, Colonel Sanders, for pointing out our myriad shortcomings. Next time you visit you’ll be happy with the gravy.”

After the press conference when I was finally introduced to the Colonel. I said, “An honor to meet you, sir.  I’m sorry you had such a disappointing experience yesterday.” He paused a moment, looked me in the eye, touched my arm and said, “So you’re the new man. Good luck to you, sir. I know you’ll take care of it.”

When I accepted the promotion from executive vice president of Pewter Pot, the 22 unit coffee shop chain I’d been operating in Boston for three years, somebody in HR told me, “If you can fix that train wreck they ought to give it to you.” The situation was so dire that nobody thought it could be fixed. My calculated risk was the third in a ten-year foray into fixing broken restaurant chains. If the company was on its last breath, I figured, the easier it would be to turn around and look like a star. It worked most of the time. 

The lynchpin of the whole deal was obviously New York. If I couldn’t fix New York it was game over.

As in three earlier turnarounds, the first thing we did was the thing that didn’t require a brain. We spruced up the stores so that they were places you’d want to work, maybe even be proud of. We called it “Paint Up-Fix Up” and it wasn’t much more than that. They weren’t big dollar improvements, certainly, but it was enough to provide a working environment where we could require performance. It meant that we could plausibly convey our expectations for food quality, store cleanliness and service. We came to lead the nation in all.

After we completed the rudimentary paint-up fix up and had made our expectations clear, we held rallies with every employee in our New York market in attendance. The rallies were held in the auditorium of the New York Hilton and featured high end audio visuals including the television advertising campaign we were about to launch. Glossy TV ads and big sound always get the audience going. 

Because we needed to drive traffic into our improved stores we blitzed the market with the famed “Buck a Meal Deal.” That’s one piece of chicken, mashed potatoes and a biscuit for one single dollar. Thank you very much. It didn’t pretend to be elegant, but it rang the cash register and gave us some breathing room. But the Buck a Meal gambit almost cost me my job. I had acted unilaterally on the promotion as I was prone to do and Tom Frank, KFC’s senior VP of marketing, gave me a proper dressing down despite its success. I told him that I thought that kind of call was within my purview. He grudgingly accepted my apology saying that, “If I thought you knew better I’d have you fired.” I may or may not have known better. Managing up was never my strong suit.

The sexier and equally true story of the Miracle on 42nd Street was the first ethnic advertising ever done at KFC. Contemplate that for a moment. You have a product that hews sharply to the black and Spanish communities and you’ve never acknowledged their existence except to put your stores in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the South Bronx and Harlem. The “inner city” stores were operated to an entirely different and far lower standard than Midtown or suburban locations. A wall separated the customer and the customer service worker, a wall with a bulletproof glass window and what appeared to be a bank teller mechanism. I had them removed immediately.

My two area managers in Harlem, one black and one Puerto Rican, packed heat. Street punks with a capital P. When I called them in to my Herald Square office to inform about our new rules of engagement they responded with unsuppressed giggles. I didn’t miss a beat, “You are fucking fired. Give me your gun and badge.” Well, maybe not the second part.

With a modicum of momentum under our belts, we introduced two new marketing campaigns in rapid succession. The first, “Welcome to New York” was television commercials aimed at the black, Hispanic and Jewish audiences. They were simple confections which featured likeable Hispanic, black and Jewish women welcoming the Colonel to New York. The Hispanic one was actually in Spanish. We were really welcoming New Yorkers back to KFC with the Colonel as a beacon of finger linkin' goodness.

But we really hit the big time when we hired a spanking new, black owned advertising agency, Mingo Jones and Guilmenot, to develop a major campaign for us, one that went national after its epic success in New York. Frank Mingo, the first black vice president and account executive at McCann-Erickson where he managed the Miller Brewing account, was 36, Carolyn Jones and Richard Guilmenot both former vice presidents of BBD&O were 33 and 29, respectively. The 6’6 Mingo had a creative vision as imposing as his stature. Frank was a great storyteller with a profane streak. I recall that one time when he referred to someone he didn’t like or trust as a “jamf.” I asked him, “What the hell’s a jamf?” He replied, “Jive ass motherfucker.” A bullshitter. Frank Mingo wasn’t one.

KFC had been running a yawner of a national campaign “It’s so nice to feel so good about a meal” and Mingo, supported by copious research, concluded that KFC with New York as its test piece needed to get back to promoting the product itself. So, we employed billboards featuring Gladys Knight’s 1,000-watt smile and radio commercials where she sang our new slogan, “We do chicken right.” Between 1977 and 1980 KFC’s New York sales increased by 70% and KFC adopted the theme for its national campaign.

By 1981 Mingo Jones, Guilmenot had left the firm, was the second largest African American owned advertising agency in the country. Sadly, Frank Mingo died in 1989 at 50 and Carolyn Jones in 2002 at the age of 59. Guilmenot has a consulting firm on Long Island. He’s 70. Jesus, we were young. And I'm still ambulatory.

After the success in New York and throughout the region I was offered the presidency of KFC’s Mexican fast food chain Zantigo. I turned it down the twice. I knew I had a good thing going, the number one region in the country by wide margin, an idyllic home in the perfect New Canaan, Connecticut and the autonomy of distance. I would soon learn how key that is. First, Jim Willey the president of KFC, tried to sell me on the promotion and, though I liked Jim and saw him as something of a mentor, I demurred. Then he told me if I took the job I’d be the next president of KFC. I declined again. 

No is no until it isn’t. I was summoned to Santa Barbara by Hicks Waldron the president of Heublein, KFC’s parent corporation. There on a terrace in Montecito overlooking the blue Pacific the persuasive Waldron said, “I need for you to do this.” It sounded more like a command than a request. I said "Yes.”

It was not a stellar career move. I found myself at loggerheads with senior management over the strategic direction of Zantigo from the get go. And, though our numbers were astounding, and we received the best qualitative evaluations in the history of KFC, Willey died, and I did not become the next president of the company. That was a drunk named Bill Reidy.

I went back to Boston to start Pizzeria Uno. Zantigo was sold to Taco Bell within a year.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Vatican of Saloons

PJ Clarke's at Happy Hour

In the New York years, I drank at P.J. Clarke’s every time I was in the city at the end of the business day. One evening after work Erv Hall and I went to the bar and I suggested, “Let’s just have one and go.” He replied with a grin, “Steve, there’s no such thing as one and go.” Those words proved prophetic.

It was at the old saloon on the northeast corner of 55th Street and Third Avenue that I first learned the 80-20 rule. That’s the adage that says 80% of a bar’s business comes from 20% of its customers. The regulars. In my beer o’clock visits I always saw the same half dozen guys at the front end of the bar by the window overlooking Third Avenue. I figured that if they were always there at 5:30pm and I was just an occasional customer, they must be there every single afternoon. Extrapolation is my middle name.

I first visited the joint in 1970 when I was banished to Rego Park, Queens to fix an underperforming restaurant that I'd opened the year before. I lived in a basement apartment in Forest Hills Estates where I could walk to work and take the subway to The City for recreational purposes. The floundering restaurant was just across from Lefrak City, a huge apartment complex, and 2-1/2 blocks from the long gone Alexander’s Department Store at Queens Boulevard and 63rd Road. The little cafĂ© was the first place that a newly fired employee threatened me. “You won’t make it through the week,” he warned. That's 2,486 weeks ago. I'm feeling good about my chances.

How I stumbled on P.J. Clarke’s escapes me, but it became a haunt, the first step on a bar crawl up 1st Avenue to Yorktown and back down 2nd to 57th Street. My guess is that I learned about the bar in a bar, the way I learned everything else I know. My neighborhood bar in Rego Park was in Elmhurst or was it Corona? The hell if I know. Anyway, take a left out of my place, walk to Queens Boulevard, hang a right at Alexander’s, walk another couple of blocks and Walsh’s Pub was across the street.

Among the many things I learned at Vinny Walsh’s establishment was how to process 35mm negatives to get prints that looked like they were made with 4x5 sheet film. I was tipping Half and Halfs next to an older guy who, it turns out, was a local portrait photographer. We began to compare notes. I told him that I wanted to produce prints with as little grain as possible. He turned to me and said, “Go to 47th Street Photo in The City (that's what you call Manhattan if you're in the know). Ask for Seymour. Sy knows everything there is to know about the darkroom. He’ll tell you what to do.”

Sy did. On my nightly, I mean next, sortie into Manhattan I walked into 47th Street Photo and asked for Seymour. I told him some barfly in Elmhurst told me to look him up and that I wanted to know how coax creamy acuity out of a 35mm negative. He told me, “Kid, you gotta use Edwal FG7 developer not that Kodak crap. Use it 15:1 with a 9% sodium sulfite solution. Prints like nothing else, I’m telling you. And here’s the kicker, you can push the film. Take Kodak Plus X film that’s a 125 ASA and push it a 400, 500 ASA. I did it and it did. So, when I got back to my darkroom in South Pasadena a couple of months later I started shooting Plus X at 500 and getting prints that looked they came from a Hasselblad at 100 ASA. That Edwal FG7-Sodium Sulfite hack is the process I used till my darkroom days ended in the 2002. Thanks Sy.

I also learned about the Irish bar circuit at Walsh’s which, New York being New York, was epic. My favorite barkeep at Walsh’s, one Jack Kearns, tutored me on the midweek ritual called “busting balls” which isn’t quite what it sounds. It’s drinking tour of Irish bars. On a barkeep’s night off, say Tuesday, he would hit all the bars on his circuit and “be taken care of.” Meaning he’d be treated like royalty by his brethren of the brew. He’d wouldn’t pay for a single drink. On Jack Kearns’s Irish bar circuit were, Peter’s Back Street in Bayside, Patrick’s Pub in Douglaston and the John Barleycorn in Manhattan. Only the John Barleycorn survives.

Back then it was protocol for your favorite mixologist to “buy” every third drink, and in a clearly understood quid pro quo, you’d tip him the full amount of that beverage. All of this was done with the full knowledge of the proprietor who understood the game. The IRS not so much. If Vinny Walsh didn’t tolerate the larceny his star bartender would move down the block dragging his regulars with him.

PJ Clarke’s has been called “the Vatican of Saloons.” PJ was Patrick J. Clarke, an Irish immigrant who tended bar at Duneen’s Saloon which opened its doors in 1887. Ten years later he bought Duneen's and changed the name. The venerable establishment is famous for its longevity, that it hasn’t been replaced by a skyscraper, its celebrity clientele, and for its pews, I mean urinals.

The urinals at PJ Clarke's

You could park your car in those things. They were chest height with an ice block covering the drain. They say you can tell how busy a shift is by the size of the melting block. Easier than counting the drawer I guess. "O'Shaugnessy, go measure the ice."

Wilt Chamberlain walking south on 2nd Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets in 1977 

On one occasion after half a dozen black and tans I stepped into the men’s room directly behind me. When I opened the door to go back to the bar I walked into Wilt Chamberlain’s ass. I do not exaggerate. The man was so big that at 5’-11” I was eyeballing the big center’s pockets. Unlike most “big men” of the day who were storks, Wilt’s 300 pounds was distributed perfectly on his 7’-2” frame. Imagine Lebron James but half a foot taller. Wilt employed a handler to fend off male patrons. I watched his body man collecting head shots from all the women queuing up to meet the man who scored 100 points against the Knicks in 1962 and, according to Chamberlain, 10,000 women. I’m afraid to do that math.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

La La Land and other fables

While I tend to look askance at chain restaurants I'm compelled to award an honorable mention in the best steak sweepstakes to Morton’s Steakhouse. Morton’s is notable because their steak is cooked on a flat top not a wood fired grill, a char-grill or a broiler. A strong case can be made that cooking a steak on a flat top or griddle, called “a la plancha” in the Spanish speaking world, is the superior method. The sizzling surface sears the meat so all the juices and fat are sealed in. And on the plus side Morton’s slathers the steak with butter. It’s affront to your arteries but you’ll die happy.

Morton’s in Boston was the scene of several bacchanalian orgies of steak and wine in the waning days of my restaurant career. One of my partners was an oenophile and that’s the nicest thing I can say about him. His best friend was one of Boston’s biggest wine distributors and importers whose company had discovered Guigal wines and had become the importer for the whole country. Bob had his own million-dollar wine cellar at home and, as such, you knew he’d bring one hell of a bottle to the party. You also knew that you didn’t have one as good or that you could afford.

The price of entry to these bleary nights of indulgence was that each participant, of which there were four, had to bring a worthy, read old, bottle. The fraught task brought on the cold sweats. How will my pathetic offering stand up? I didn’t have much of a cellar and the oldest, dubiously drinkable wine I owned was a standard issue, $6.00 when released, 1968 Louis Martini Cabernet. At least it got bonus points for being part of illustrious class of 1968, one in which Napa Valley cabs were deemed the equal of those from Bordeaux. The wine had been stored with no adherence to the strictures of proper wine storage, to wit a humidity controlled 55 degrees. The sad little thing had been kept in a pantry next to the Smucker’s apricot jam.

My erstwhile partner brought one of Guigal’s La Las, La Landonne specifically. Our resident wine maven brought a legendary 1968 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s the famed wine redolent of menthol from the eucalyptus trees that surrounded the vineyard.  And I brought the cowering little Louis Martini. I don’t remember what our fourth member contributed, or care.

As protocol requires, we began with the wine most likely to fail. Namely mine. We opened my thirty-year old relic, a gift from a friend in 1981 when we opened a restaurant on Lombard Street in San Francisco. Thanks Lenny. It poured light, more like pinot noir than cabernet. But, to our amazement, the lyrical little wine filled our stems with floral notes and lithe elegance. The Martha’s Vineyard from the watershed 1968 vintage that had proved that California could make world class cabernet was full bodied and fresh with menthol notes and pure expressive fruit. 1968 was deemed the best year since 1947. 2016 tasting notes that I found online glorify the 1968 Martha’s Vineyard this way, “Definitely the first time I’ve seen this bottle, and probably the last. This was stunning in every sense of the word! With good color, chocolate mint, cherry, tobacco and earthy nose that got you going and kept you going as well. Full bodied, fresh, deep and long, the fruit had beautiful purity.This is definitely one of the best, mature, classic California Cabernet Sauvignon wines I've ever tasted.” Today the regal beauty will set you back $1,294 smackeroos.

What's his name's La Landonne was as advertised, stupendous. The biggest, most tannic of Guigal’s Cote Rotie wines, it showed firm minerality along with blackberry, spice and tobacco. 

You can still pull the cork on a 1968 Heitz cab or a 1982 La Landonne and be left murmuring superlatives to express your awe. The 1968 Louis Martini, alas, has left the building.

At this moment the La Landonne retails for $669 and the Martini is a paltry $170.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

After Bourdain: The Steak Issue

El Churrasco in Cordoba

As I reflect, the appearance of red meat in my food memories is prominent. I am an unabashed carnivore though beef no longer plays a big role at home. But when dining out, especially during travel, the steak looms large. So much so that I’m compelled to list my all-time best steaks and the place and circumstances thereof.
While I was still in college on the vaunted eight-year program there was a cowboy steak emporium called Pinnacle Peak way the hell northeast of Scottsdale. The joint is still there but is very pale iteration of its old self. By the late sixties the steak had become more Sizzler than Pinnacle Peak but, apparently, the cowboy scene keeps it afloat.  Anyway, I had a buddy, Jim Walters, whose wife Sandy was a waitress there. She introduced me to the place. I wound up singing and playing guitar in the “Sweet Tooth”, the adjacent saloon. Pinnacle Peak, a sprawling open-air affair, was renowned for two things:  a 32-ounce porterhouse steak and that they’d cut your tie off and staple it to the rafters if you had the temerity to wear one. As to the mammoth steak cooked over a mesquite fire, I can report that it was big.
We moved to Minneapolis from LA in 1971 when I began operating a small chain of family restaurants called Betty Crocker Pie Shops. Yes, that Betty, the mythic exemplar of 1950’s family life. But, more importantly, there was a steak. And what a steak it was. Lindey’s Steakhouse in Arden Hills northeast of Minneapolis had a simple beef centric menu led by the stellar Lindey’s Special Sirloin. The thick cut steak that had been aged and butchered in house was at that time and maybe still, the best steak ever. I’ll get back to you when I complete my steak research in approximately never. Is never too soon for you?
Lindey's Special Sirloin

The Special Sirloin came with a forgettable salad but with savory home fries that are worth an article. Lindey’s was the first place where a menu described what properly cooked steak is and the veracity of its descriptions have stayed with me since. It said, and I paraphrase liberally, we don’t do well-done. If you do order that offense to God and womanhood, we’ll drop it in the deep fryer and you can take your hockey puck home for breakfast. As to rare, Lindy’s was equally emphatic. Rare means red and cool in the center. That steak could make a grown man weep. It was brought out on a sizzling iron platter then cut in half and fanned before your eyes, so you could approve of its doneness or, ideally, the lack thereof. That was a steak.
One time we took Harold Bissner, a southern California visitor, to Lindy’s on a forty below night. We drove our brand new yellow Volkswagen Beetle.  It was our first new car and cost a princely $2,600. We expected the restaurant to be quiet since it was a blustery February Tuesday, but being Minnesota, it was as busy as a Saturday in July. Those Minnesotans are hardy folk and they do love their steak. On the flip side, you couldn’t buy a fresh vegetable in the Twin Cities in 1971.

In 1976 I became a vice president of a national fast food chain. I won’t say the name, but its spokesman had white hair, wore a white suit and sounded like he was from Corbin, Kentucky. There are many stories to be told about that heady time in my life. Some of them true. We led an idyllic life in muy rico New Canaan, Connecticut. I had an office in Greenwich, and another at Herald Square in Manhattan. I was king of the world or as close as I would come. 

My boss, Jim Willey, the president of KFC, visited my New York market on occasion and on his second visit he took my fellow vice presidents and me to Peter Luger's in the very sketchy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The neighborhood was a rich blend of Hasidim and hoodlum. Back then you risked losing your car if you parked it in Williamsburg. If you did have the, umm stones, to bring your wheels you had to duke some kid a ten spot to watch it.
The hard drinking, chain smoking Willey had the presence of mind to have an account at Luger’s and it's a good thing since they didn’t accept credit cards. Even now they take just one card, their own.
Peter Luger’s had been there since 1887 and so had some of the waiters. It was last redecorated in 1952. I’ve noticed that in a lot of the classic steakhouses, that the more dated the decor the better the steak. Of course that's just a theory.
Family style at Peter Luger in Brooklyn

Everything was served family style by graying lifers wearing starched white aprons that hung below the knee.  Platters of sliced New Jersey truck farm tomatoes and onions, scrumptious home fries and sliced porterhouse steak made the groaning table sag. It was a quintessential New York dining experience. I remember it so vividly that eating at Peter Luger's again is high on my bucket list.
Lomo de Buey at El Churrasco.

Nearly forty years passed by before another steak joined Lindey’s and Peter Luger’s atop my best steakhouse list and it was in Cordoba, Spain. It was April of 2014 when we chanced upon El Churrasco. We picked the restaurant by its welcoming appearance and because it had, well, steak. On the left in the small lobby were three grills where the steaks were cooked over charcoal. Under the front counter was refrigerated case where the beef was being aged. To the right of the grills enormous slabs of meat leaned against the tile wall. When we took our first tender juicy bite of the “Lomo de Buey” we exclaimed in unison, “This is best steak I ever had.” Loosely translated “Lomo de Buey” means back of the steer or oxen. New York Strip to me. When I spoke to the manager as I was leaving I learned that El Churrasco bought all its beef from a ranch an hour north of Cordoba and had done so for decades, that it was aged for two weeks at the ranch and another two at the restaurant. It was melt in your mouth tender and the fat, of which there was plenty, was sweet and soft as a kiss. I was so in lust that I made another trip to Cordoba just for the steak.
There’s a back story to visiting Spain twice in a year. It has something to do with the computer eating three weeks of images while we were in Madrid. The culprit shall remain nameless. When we were in France in October I convinced myself that I had to retrace my steps through Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Cordoba to replace the irreplaceable photographs, I was, after all, so close. I quickly learned that you can’t replicate 5,000 moments in time. But at least I got another Lomo de Buey.