Each week, First We Feast photographer Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay) grabs her camera and hits the streets to explore a different aspect of the food world. Here, she shares her photos and stories.
New York’s steakhouses are known for their grand dining rooms, where moneyed patrons sip martinis and feast on ribeyes and porterhouses. But this week, I wanted to go behind-the-scenes to see where all that beef is kept before it hits the plate—the red-blooded meat lockers and dry-aging rooms that are nothing short of temples of worship for a serious carnivore.
At Keens, the iconic Herald Square stalwart that opened in 1885, the walk-in was narrow and veered off into winding directions, at each turn revealing shelves lined with steaks that had been stamped with the Keens logo. They were all in various stages of the dry-aging process, resulting in all sorts of different colors and textures on the exterior of the cuts. The room was freezing, with powerful fans blowing gusts of freezing air onto the cuts of meat. Here, I learned why in-house aging is such an expensive process: The restaurant has to buy the steaks based on their full original weight, and over the course of aging a lot of that weight is lost through evaporation. Think about that next time you check the prices on the menu.
The in-house aging operation is even robust at Smith & Wollensky in midtown, where cuts are aged up to 28 days. The scale of this place was jaw-dropping—after being led downstairs, I stepped into a massive meat emporium filled with hundreds of ribeyes, sirloins, and other cuts, each labelled to track its aging status.
The final stop on my tour de meat was Delmonico’s, which has been a landmark of lower Manhattan since the early 19th century. Chef Billy Oliva wasn’t around, but it was clear from the pristine cuts kept in the small, tightly packed walk-in how much pride he takes in handling his steaks properly.
After basking in the sights and aromas of so much meat, I was craving nothing more than a bloody steak, with a side of creamed spinach and an Old Fashioned served up.