"You’ve got the tender beef, butter, salt, French fries, beer — all your major food groups. But it’s very unique to North Jersey. I go to other places and nobody’s heard of it."
He’s talking about a beefsteak, described by Paul Lukas of the N.Y. Times as a
"raucous all-you-can-eat-and-drink banquet."
The story says that back in the days before cholesterol testing, beefsteaks — boisterous mass feeds featuring unlimited servings of steak, lamb chops, bacon-wrapped lamb kidneys, crabmeat, shrimp and beer, all consumed without such niceties as silverware, napkins or women — held sway in New York for the better part of a century.
The ritual was documented by the writer Joseph Mitchell for the New Yorker magazine in his 1939 article “All You Can Hold for Five Bucks.” As Mr. Mitchell told it, the beefsteak came into being in the mid-1800s, became popular as a political fund-raiser and vote-buyer, and began a slow decline when women started taking part after being granted suffrage in 1920.
Today the beefsteak features slices of beef tenderloin washed down with pitchers of beer, and has migrated from its New York roots to New Jersey.
The events, which typically attract crowds of 150 or more, with a ticket price of about $40, are popular as political meet-and-greets, annual dinners for businesses and civic groups, and charity fundraisers. Caterers said they put on about 1,000 of them in the region last year.
The story says that in 1938 a Clifton butcher and grocer named Garret Nightingale, known as Hap, began catering parties with a set formula.
He grilled tenderloins (the muscle used for filet mignon) over charcoal, sliced them, dipped the slices in melted butter, served them on slices of white sandwich bread, added French fries on the side, and let everyone eat as much as they wanted. This he called a beefsteak. Within a decade, it had become an entrenched local phenomenon.
Hap Nightingale died in 1982. By that time he had passed the business on to his son, Bob, who turned it over to his son, Rob, in 1995. The second- and third-generation Nightingales continue to run the operation today out of an unassuming Clifton house where Bob Nightingale was raised and still lives. Their business office is the house’s cramped basement, and the tenderloins are grilled over hardwood charcoal in the driveway before being taken to the beefsteak venues. From this unlikely command center, the Nightingales catered over 600 beefsteaks last year, going through 88,000 pounds of tenderloin in the process.