Vegetarian Nightmare

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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.

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6 Responses to Vegetarian Nightmare

  1. Tim says:

    It really bugs me when the elitists at the New York Times go out into the countryside and produce a story like this. It smacks to me of condescension that the enlightened city dwellers seem to find humor in the strange customs of the peasants. This type of story is particularly prevalent during election years, when reporters hang on the words of every truck driver in every diner in every small town in states holding primaries.

  2. Uncle Pinky says:

    I’m just glad to see the old traditions upheld. There’s just something primal, and fun, about meetings like this. I’d never begrudge women their coteries and conclaves, but they seem to be multiplying while fraternal get-togethers and “smokers” are on the decline. We’re pretty much limited to fishing holes and hunting camps these days, so kudos to the lads of Jersey for keeping the beneficially atavistic rituals alive.

    Makes me want to fire up the grill, light up the stogie and call over the poker boys.

  3. sam says:

    Beer and beef – it’s what’s for dinner!

    BTW, my wife is more of a beef eater than I am. It has something to do with her being raised in Wyoming, I think.

  4. Gaius says:

    They just hack a steak off a passing cow up there, don’t they?

    Beef and beer – perfect menu.

  5. Mockinbird says:

    If Fred Thompson had done a string of Barbacues, why he just might of…

  6. martian says:

    Not just any Beef – those guys are gobbling tenderloin! I can’t think of any better meal on earth. Sorry, ladies, it’s a guy thing.

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