The New York Times discovers that a "lost" tradition in New York City is alive and well – and living in New Jersey. The "beefsteak" is doing a booming business in northern New Jersey, despite untimely reports of its demise in The Big Apple.
IT was Friday evening at V.F.W. Post 4591 in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., and the scene was a vegetarian’s nightmare.
About 350 men, seated shoulder to shoulder at long tables, were devouring slices of beef tenderloin and washing them down with pitchers of beer. As waiters brought trays of meat, the guests reached over and harvested the pink slices with their bare hands, popping them down the hatch.
Each slice was perched on a round of Italian bread, but most of the men ate only the meat and stacked the bread slices in front of them, tallying their gluttony like poker players amassing chips. Laughter and uproarious conversation were in abundance; subtlety was not.
As anyone in northern New Jersey could tell you, this was a beefsteak. The term refers not to a cut of meat but to a raucous all-you-can-eat-and-drink banquet with a rich history in Bergen and Passaic Counties.
The events, which typically attract crowds of 150 or more, with a ticket price of about $40, are popular as political meet-and-greets, annual dinners for businesses and civic groups, and charity fundraisers. Caterers said they put on about 1,000 of them in the region last year.
“Once you start going to beefsteaks, it’s an addiction,” said Al Baker, a Hasbrouck Heights policeman who had organized the evening’s festivities to benefit the Special Olympics. “You’ve got the tender beef, butter, salt, French fries, beer — all your major food groups. But it’s very unique to North Jersey. I go to other places and nobody’s heard of it.”
What is funny here, as the article's author, Paul Lukas, notes, is that the beefsteak was pronounced to be dying in New York City in 1939. An article in the New Yorker magazine written by Joseph Mitchell bemoaned the passing of the ritual and blamed it on women getting the vote – or something. The food fests had been popular in the city for nearly a century. The torch was passed to New Jersey and nobody noticed. Head over and read the rest, it is entertaining and will give PETA a raging case of the vapors. Consider it a twofer. And pass the tenderloin.