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Andrew Dermont and Derek Silverman, the two twentysomethings behind the Brooklyn Beefsteak, are scarcely old enough to remember Beefsteak Charlie’s, let alone the 19th- and early 20th-century meatstravaganzas that inspired the beef-and-beer blowout being held this Sunday at the Bell House. Heck, everyone reading this is too young to remember the vote-buying free-for-alls once held by the Tammany Hall political machine and immortalized by Joseph Mitchell in his 1939 New Yorker essay, “All You Can Hold for Five Bucks.”
Silverman first heard about beefsteaks from a friend whose hall at Oxford University threw one annually. When Dermont read the Mitchell essay, he thought it sounded like fun to create his own version of a beefsteak. With its images of sweaty stevedores gobbling sliced meat with their hands, the beefsteak is a far cry from the hipster cook-offs that have been held at the Bell House. “In some ways, we both agree that it’s a sort of macho, anti-hip response to the organic foodie cook-off scene, but that was not our original intention,” Dermont says. “We like organic food and foodies and cook-offs.”
Don’t expect any double lamb chops, kidneys, or oompah bands at this post-millennial version of the beefsteak–the boys have 86’d those once traditional meats and hired a rockabilly band. The two Wesleyan grads are charging $35 in advance and $50 at the door for the opportunity to quaff as much McSorley’s Ale and eat as much beef as possible without utensils. (The bash is currently sold out, though some tickets may be released later in the week, and tickets will be sold at the door starting at 3:30 p.m.) A quick look at an online inflation calculator shows that $5 is worth about $75 these days, making this carnucopia quite the bargain indeed. A whopping 300 pounds of tenderloin, ribeye, hanger, short ribs, and hamburger from Creekstone Farms will be served. The pasture-raised, grain-finished beef is being provided by the ubiquitous Pat La Frieda Wholesale Meats. As for vegetables, that depends on your definition. There will be pickles from Brooklyn Brine along with peanuts and potato salad.
Shoveling meat into one’s mouth using only one’s hands is de rigueur at a beefsteak, though spoons might be provided for the potato salad. “Everyone will get an apron as they walk in,” Dermont says, “so even if they gnaw away like cavemen, they’ll have a wearable napkin to keep themselves relatively clean. The meat will be sliced and easy to eat.”
Beefsteak scholars Paul Lukas and Bill Wander will be on hand to expound on the meaty mysteries of the beefsteak, and “ballads, boogies, and blues” will be provided by the Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. In the old days, beer-and-beef-buzzed attendees provided their own entertainment. “When the people got tired of eating and drinking, they would harmonize,” Mitchell wrote. “You could hear them harmonizing blocks away. They would harmonize ‘My Wild Irish Rose’ until they got their appetite back.”
“1913 World Record, Anthony Andesner ate 8 pounds,” the event’s website proudly proclaims. So are the boys worried about running out of beef? Not really, but “if Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut show up, I think we may have a problem on our hands,” Dermont quips.
Beefsteak historian Lukas says there are two ways to look at an event of such epic proportions. One is to recreate everything from the Mitchell essay, as Chef Waldy Malouf does at the annual beefsteak he throws at his Upper West Side restaurant, Beacon. The other is to “start your own tradition and make your own rules and to draw upon the past, but not be bound by the traditions of the past,” as Dermont and Silverman are doing.
That latter option sounds infinitely better. In the bygone days of Tammany, Mitchell wrote, “The life of the party at a beefsteak used to be the man who let out the most ecstatic grunts, drank the most beer, ate the most steak, and got the most grease on his ears, but women do not esteem a glutton.”
Josh “Mr. Cutlets” Ozersky, a man who is well familiar with being the life, and often the host, of such parties, offers his perspective on the Brooklyn Beefsteak. “The venerable beefsteak, as immortalized in Joe Mitchell’s deathless essay, is the most Dionysian of all meat festivals, a beer- and blood- and grease-spattered bacchanal no modern milquetoast would be caught dead at. It takes a special sort of person to attend a beefsteak, much less throw one, and no citizen of spirit should miss it.”