In Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell describes the Beefsteak as “a form of gluttony as stylized and regional as the riverbank fish fry, the hot-rock clambake, or the Texas barbecue.” These all-you-can-eat, no-utensils, men-only, beer-and-beef-fueled feasts were once common in New York City, where they would be thrown by politicians to attract votes or fire departments to raise funds. But then Prohibition hit, and the bacchanals died out. Now a few chefs are bringing back the tradition (minus the gender discrimination, thankfully). Chief among them is Waldy Malouf of the Culinary Institute of America in New York’s Hyde Park, which will hold its third annual Beefsteak on February 6.
A typical 19th-century Beefsteak menu consisted of beer, sliders, beef and bread. Malouf’s is a touch more complex. Prepared by CIA students, the meal starts with baguettes, crudités and huge hunks of New York State cheddar. There are ladies dressed as flappers handing out beer mugs (which servers aim to keep filled at all times), American classics like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (courtesy of a live brass band), and no utensils in sight (“we do allow silverware, but we look down on it,” Malouf says). Then there's a seafood program: roasted oysters, shrimp cocktail and jumbo lump crabmeat salad with Russian dressing. This second course primes diners for the meaty main attraction, which starts with miniature burgers, served with homemade ketchup and bread and butter pickles, grilled lamb chops and bacon-wrapped lamb kidneys. Before the entrée, Malouf leads the dining room in a rendition of “God Bless America,” then comes the parade of roasted sirloins, which servers carve and top with blood-and-butter gravy (pan drippings, stock, butter and Worcestershire sauce). As if that’s not enough, Malouf throws some whiskey into the mix. Every table gets a bottle of bourbon with glasses and a bucket of ice. “Then more singing ensues,” he says.
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If you want to get in on this year's epic CIA Beefsteak, all-inclusive tickets are $150 and on sale now. And if you can't get there, you can still throw your own version at home (though you might have to pare it down a bit). Here, Malouf’s top tips for hosting the greatest dinner party of all time.