August/September 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 4
Brooklyn loyalists maintain that the hot dog was born on Coney Island, the invention of a German immigrant named Charles Feltman. What is beyond dispute is that Feltman built a compact little empire of rides and beer gardens and clam bars, all based on the hot dog he sold for a dime, and that one of his roll slicers, Nathan Handwerker, left him to set up shop in 1916 on Surf Avenue. There he dispensed for a nickel hot dogs that were succulent and delicious then, and remain so today. Evil rumor has it that Nathan’s Famous may move soon, but as of this printing you can—and should—buy what for years the whole nation called a Coney Island red hot at the old stand. (Corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, open 365 days a year)
A clamshell’s throw from Nathan’s, this Italian restaurant was born in the first decade of the last century but now inhabits a tall, spacious, handsome room that speaks of 1920s swank. It’s every bit as much a Coney institution as Nathan’s, and they’ll park your car for you. (2911 West Fifteenth Street)
More shore. At one time this Sheepshead Bay restaurant could seat 2,800 patrons in its infinitude of stuccoed rooms; the customers got to eat seafood pulled out of the Atlantic and carried across the street just hours earlier. It closed in 1979, but, miraculously, the building remained intact, and it reopened 10 years ago. Those who remember it from the old days grumble that it’s too small now, but it’s still very large indeed. Its stained-glass windows still bear the coat of arms invented by its founder, and the biscuits that were famous when FDR was in the White House surely couldn’t have been better then. (1901 Emmons Avenue)
Founded in 1950, Junior’s drew glory from its cheesecake, just as Nathan Handwerker did from his hot dog. The restaurant is loud, big, and far from beautiful, but its creamy staple is of such quality that Junior’s ships a 1,500 cheescakes across the East.
It’s no mere matter of local vainglory. A national consensus holds that this is the best steak house in America. Luger’s cooks have been perfecting the art of searing meat since 1887, and even during the bleak 1970s nadir of the neighborhood, which stands in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, the restaurant was turning away customers on Saturday night. Dark wood paneling, a teeming bar, tables scrubbed bone-white over the decades, and the steak brought to you sliced. If perhaps too much fuss is made over the sliced tomatoes and onions with which you can accessorize your peerless porterhouse, the hash browns certainly won’t disappoint you. (178 Broadway at Driggs Avenue)