A visit to a high-end steakhouse, be it a chain or a local haunt, is expected to hit certain notes. The atmosphere should be dark, masculine but not too clubby, and preferably heavy in dark wood and leather; service should be friendly, knowledgeable, and professional; and the menu should revolve around a decent selection of expertly-cooked dry-aged steaks. A top-notch steakhouse doesn’t break the mold but doesn’t rest on its laurels, either; and a recent visit to the branch of Morton’s the Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan hit the nail right on the head.
Morton’s was founded in Chicago in 1978 by entrepreneurs Arnold Morton and Klaus Fritsch, and in 2012 it was acquired by Landry’s, which also owns chains including Claim Jumper, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Joe’s Crab Shack, McCormick & Schmick’s, Rainforest Café, Landry’s Seafood, and Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse. Today there are more than 70 Morton’s locations in the country, and they all hew pretty closely to the original formula (down to getting their steaks from the same supplier since day one), which itself hews closely to the formula mentioned above. The chain’s goal is to serve great steaks in a comfortable and familiar environment, and it accomplishes it admirably.
After taking our seats in a cozy booth in the dim, relatively featureless dining room of the Fifth Avenue location (the primary décor is illuminated black and white photos of Times Square and other New York landmarks), our amiable server took our drink orders and provided a thorough overview of the different steaks on offer as well as a rundown of the seasonal specials printed on a postcard tucked into the menus (this is a chain restaurant, after all). Our Negroni and gimlet were well-made, and the wine list is large and admirable; we found a reasonably priced Stags’ Leap petite sirah.
We started our meal with a couple steakhouse staples: shrimp cocktail and a special from the menu insert, thick-cut bacon with a honey bourbon glaze.
The shrimp were absolutely colossal, served with a zippy house-made cocktail sauce and served three to an order with much fanfare, shrouded in a haze of dry ice.
The bacon was thick-cut, lean, and high-quality, perfectly cooked in the same broiler used to cook the steaks and given a sweet and tangy kick by the glaze.
Dry-aged steaks at Morton’s are aged for two to three weeks and cooked on a grill rack under a 1,500-degree broiler, which is a very smart move: The crust is deeply burnished from end to end while still retaining those familiar grill marks; some steaks that are only grilled are a dull gray in between the grill marks, but not here.
We ordered a ribeye and a bone-in New York strip, both dry-aged, both Prime, and both perfectly cooked to medium-rare with a deep, dark crust, served with just enough jus to moisten each bite. Steaks like these are about as good as you’ll find in a steakhouse, and a side dish of a thick, golden-brown hash brown (pro tip: order the hash brown well-done) served as a perfect complement. The only misstep was the soufflé for dessert, which was small and not quite as light and airy as it should have been; you should probably opt for the Hot Chocolate Cake instead.
As mentioned above, a classic steakhouse needs to hit all of the right marks; it’s just something we’ve come to expect when we’re spending a lot of money on a celebratory steak dinner. If there’s a reason why Morton’s has been so successful for so long, it’s because they hit all of those marks right on the nose, and they make it look easy.