January 27, 1969 | About Gael

        The inexhaustible groaning board is a fine old American tradition. And there is a breed of big-time eater who couldn't care less what slides down his esophagus, as long as the plenty never ceases Promise him lots, preferably for less…and he's yours. The "one and only original" lots…our "frankly fabulous" plenty…a galaxy of elegant extras with naught of an extra charge! The way to a man's heart is through his gluttony.

        The cautiously proliferating Steak and Brew restaurants, an ingeniously computed Larry Ellman formula, and Cooky's scattered Steak Pubs are two shrilly self-touted specimens of this primitive folk art in dining.

EXTRA!
All the draught BEER You Care To Drink!
At No Extra Charge!
EXTRA!
Our Frankly Fabulous "Do It Yourself" ICE CREAM SUNDAE!
At No Extra Charge!
And as always…the one and only original GROANING BOARD with its galaxy of goodies…All these elegant extras with naught of an extra charge!


        The ad explicitly warns: the BEER and FRAPPE are available without extra charge only in New Rochelle. So forget about Huntington, Hempstead, Valley Stream and Yonkers. The professional penny-pinching gourmand heads straight for the Steak Pub of New Rochelle. There your car is sucked into the maw of an incredible contemporary monster, The Mall, a shopping compound as unreal and stylized in life as it must have been on the drawing board. Fickle nature is forever nabbed from the sealed environment, artificially arctic in summer, womb-warm in winter, with measured plots of greenery, what looks like papier-mâché rock, and a scattering of exotic birds doomed to strut and fret their hour upon the stage across from a hero stand.

        Possibly all five Steak Pubs are stamped out by the same Cooky cutter. But anyway, the New Rochelle Pub is handsome, carpeted wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with warm red tartan plaid. The ad seemed to promise a reprise of the wedding dinner scene in Goodbye, Columbus. I envisioned hoards of, "it's free, it's free" spirits tussling over Ye One and Onlye Originale Groaning Board…("denoting," the menu advises, "that ye Banquet Table bendeth under the weight of diverse regal delicacies").

        Efficiency may break down during the dinner crush. It took one family two and a half hours recently to plow through the understaffed "EXTRAvaganza." One of the two girl jockeys behind the rolling relish cart was out sick. The surviving relish pusher had been rolling erratically all evening, dispensing three far-from-lavish "appetizing delights": cottage cheese, a slightly sweet macaroni salad, and corrugated pickle slices. From the invisible groaning board to our table now came Ye Individual Bread Loaf (a sesame-sprinkled round of characterless white bread), "firkins of Ye Rich Creamery Butter" (promptly glomped by the waitress onto the tartan carpet…it had been a long, hard night), Ye Bottomless Salad Bowl…"out forthright answer to namby-pamby shreds of nondescript greens" (crisp but lukewarm quarters of iceberg lettuce) and a stainless steel "carousel" of salad dressings, all prudently zinged with garlic (amazing…garlic makes even mucilage rather edible). Salad-haters and iceberg lettuce snobs alike consumed bottomlessly. "Unstinting ewers of beer" did not yet appear. "We're not supposed to serve it until the entrée," our waitress confided.

        "Ye Starters," à la carte, were good: shrimp cocktail ($1.65), fresh fruit cup (75 cents), and lentil soup with hot dog slices (65 cents). Prime ribs of beef ($4.75) were rare and tender. Ribs and chicken ($3.95) featured good but undistinguishable chicken and a side of sweet, dried-out ribs. Braised short ribs of beef ($3.50) had a pleasant home-cooked flavor, but the sirloin ($4.75), one pound of allegedly prime beef ("English Title: SIR LOIN") was tough. String beans were watery and tasted canned. Ye Baked Potato ("a mammoth specimen, scupulously [sic] scrubbed") was unpredictable. At our table, two were nicely edible, two were marbleized. The "Pourin' Pitcher of Chive Topping Sauce" never appeared.

        Do-It-Yourself Frappé time signaled the return of the "Carousel of Complements"…chocolate fudge (tasting of My-T-Fine mixed by an enthusiastic amateur), coagulated pineapple syrup, chocolate sprinkles and toasted coconut. Great globs of what passes these days for whipped cream were served by still another waitress. Human beings who ordinarily pride themselves on moderation and taste came apart at the seams. A "veritable Sundae School," the ad had promised. We graduated with dubious honors. Oops. Honours.

***


        Steak and Brew unleashes the irrational greed that lurks deep within New York man. Frankly, though, the groaning boards scarcely creak beneath their lightweight load -- only shreds of green, toppings and bread are for grabs. You don't believe grown men and women will jostle for space at the minced olive bowl or duel over the crouton supply? Take my word for it. A hungry man never knows when the Roquefort dressing supply line will run dry.

        Steak and Brew has been artfully deployed in the great sprawling space at 2005 Broadway, upwind of Lincoln Center, in the wake of the late departed La Comédie. And elsewhere, at 55 Fifth Avenue and 400 East 57th.

        The setting is not unpleasant unless you happen to be personally insulted by fake Art Deco, fake stained glass, fake billiard table tamps, fake wine kegs, fake pewter, fake American folk art, fake smiles and fat thighs. For every slim limb in Cardin rags at Daly's Dandelion, Steak and Brew gets bulging thighs in Bermuda shorts. The bill of fare is chalked (fake) on slate (real). There is wine in carafe for $1.75 or bottle ($4 and $4.50), but all the Schlitz you can drink free and endless do-it-yourself salad with the entrées, from $3.50 for steak brochette to $5.25 for one-pound sirloin, filet mignon or lobster. A young waiter or waitress in sneakers brings your beer and takes your order. Then off to the vegetarian free-for-all. There are 12-inch oval platters to be heaped with a mélange of warmish greens, somewhat rusty on the edges…a choice of four bottled-type salad dressings, croutons, bacon bits, minced olive sprinkles…and excellent bread -- pumpernickel and rye.

        We'd munched through nine inches of salad…to think what man will eat just because it's free!...when our waitress, lookalike for Michael G. Pollard in drag, arrived with steak on a wooden board. She was about to plop something called a strip steak and lobster tail ($4.95) atop the remnants of salad when I protested: "Not on this plate."

        Her head snapped high. "Well, you could have told me before," she snarled; then, realizing her shrewish tone, she hastily added, "Now your steak will get cold." She stomped off to the salad center for a fresh platter. The Kultur Maven's sirloin (12 ounces, $4.25; 16 ounces, $5.25) was good -- certainly not the super steak one expects to cost $9, but not the $1.49 papaya-enzymed variety either. My strip steak was somewhat mushy and not rare as ordered, and the lobster was a typical Rock African tail: tough. Baked potatoes, à la carte were perfectly cooked. Sour cream topping poured from a tiny pitcher. Dessert choices included ice cream or sherbet (60 cents), Irish coffee ($1.50) and delicious lemony chiffon cream cheese pie (60 cents).

        You can pay me when you're ready," our waitress said as she voluntarily dropped the check on the table; with tips the meal came to $13.30 for two. But swift turnover is computed into the Steak and Brew program. Steak and Brew, uptown at least, appears to be an instant success…a mecca for citizens of the middle-class ghettos on West End Avenue -- and budget-minded Kulturniks too.

        Give a man a pound of beef, slathers of sour cream on his baked potato and something -- anything -- labeled "all you can eat" -- and live off the fat of the land. It's the permissive-gluttony formula for restaurant success.

Insatiable, The Book, Bby Gael Greene











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