Mouthwatering steaks at great steakhouses pretty much all funnel through one place—the hallowed lockers of Master Purveyors.
Beyond the steak, where diners choose to sink their teeth into their favorite cut comes down to the environment and atmosphere.
There are dark dens of masculinity—refined man-caves—with old leather and wood darkened by the smoking days of yore; hipper-than-thou steakhouses; and steakhouses where you can eat surrounded by plush red velvet or churchwarden pipes. It will all make for a fascinating anthropological study in the future, I’m sure.
But at Empire Steak House, there’s something different. Something a little more human, which is evidenced by the feeling that the staff really care about your well-being. Perhaps it’s compassion, perhaps it’s hospitality. Whichever, co-owner Jack Sinanaj and his staff are masters at it.
For those who have ever felt uncomfortable or put off by a stuffy steakhouse, you will revel in the genuine friendliness of Empire Steak House. And of course, the steak.
The second outpost of the Sinanaj brothers, Jack, Jeff, and Russ opened a month ago on West 54th Street. What distinguishes Empire’s new location is its ample, airy space, which seats 200-plus diners. It has a modern decor, with a sweepingly high ceiling and a sleek white marble bar.
And from the time I entered the front door until the end of the meal, the service was impeccable.
The staff was extra observant and always ready, but it wasn’t intrusive, which can be off-putting. Every step of the way, all were warm and accommodating—even waiters who were not assigned to our table.
A nice touch was having our dinners served right onto the plates in front of us.
Jack Sinanaj exudes warmth and caring. His vision was always about providing a steakhouse where everyone felt welcome.
“Younger, older, it’s for everybody,” he said. “My priority is service because almost anybody can cook medium rare actually.”
And it really is for everybody. A wide range of people were dining the evening I was there—a group of 11 women of varied ages; a group of 4 young men in suits; and a smattering of others that resulted in a diverse mix.
Sinanaj has an old connection to steak. He worked at Peter Luger with his brother Russ for a good decade before they embarked on their own steakhouse venture. Even before working at Peter Luger, they had envisioned opening a restaurant of their own.
Two Empire Steak House outposts and two Ben & Jack’s (one in Manhattan; the other in Arizona; a third is under renovation) attest to their success.
It’s a far cry from the difficult beginnings Jack Sinanaj encountered when he landed on American shores 24 years ago, an Albanian from Montenegro.
Sinanaj knew his prospects would be dim if he stayed home. As a child he caught glimpses of Western Europe and America on TV and dreamed of possibilities.
In America, his first job was as a busboy, which was a shock to his system. “When I started working here, I worked for $20, $25 a day. I was like, wow, is this really America? But I [thought] there’s gotta be something better.”
His path has eventually brought him closer to his roots. Growing up on a farm that raised cows, sheep, and chickens near a small lake and river, he knew a great deal about the bounty of the land. From his father and uncle he learned about the best cuts.
After three months of working as a busboy, Sinanaj became a bartender, then a waiter, and finally a restaurateur. “You can see this country here, it’s a beautiful thing, and it’s up to you, in most cases. I’m not going to say most of us can be doctors, but there is opportunity if you push a little harder,” he said. “But you have to believe in something before that something can happen to you.”
Dining at Empire Steak House
Someone in the kitchen loves a good char.
On a recent visit, a companion and I shared a rib eye steak ($47.95). The char on the outside was an excellent foil for the tender, juicy center inside, and this delicate balance was gratifying all throughout our meal.
Some will like the steak sauce, which has a certain echo of cocktail sauce. But the steak is so good, you won’t need it anyway. Most steaks are dry-aged for 28 days.
There is also more to this steakhouse than steak. There’s a good selection of seafood, including a buttery Chilean sea bass ($35.95), which is at its minimal best, and comes with a golden exterior that is matched by an equally beautiful taste.
The German potatoes for two ($11.95) are essentially a large, glorified hash brown served in a casserole dish; they are crunchy on top, and the sweet caramelized onions make a delicious addition.
Creamed spinach ($9.95) offers the semblance of healthfulness, with all that green color. (Who am I kidding, really, but after one bite, the question becomes, who cares, anyway?)
There is also the decadent, truffled mac ‘n’ cheese ($15.95), a souped up spaghetti with lobster ($36.95), as well as varied chicken dishes for the non-steak lover.
It’s all (pleasantly) belt-busting, and what’s more, served with a smile.
Empire Steak House
New 54th Street location:
237 W. 54th St. (between Broadway & Eighth)
Original 52nd Street location:
36 W. 52nd St. (between 5th & 6th)
Monday–Thursday: 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Saturday: noon–11:30 p.m.
Sunday: noon–10:30 p.m.
Breakfast is also served at the W. 54th St. location