This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
Perhaps since Brennan and Carr is barely on the New York map, tucked in a southern corner of Sheepshead Bay, it makes sense that this 73-year-old shrine to roast beef doesn't feel like part of the city. First of all, it's housed in a stand-alone, one-story building, alone on a triangle bordered by Avenue U and Gravesend Neck Road. Constructed of brick and darkened windows and vaguely Alpine in appearance, in would fit in at any rural intersection upstate, or some Chicago suburb. There's also a dedicated parking lot. (This is not an easy place to reach if you don't have a car.)
Inside, it feels like a miniature Peter Luger. Not the take-out counter that greets you as you enter, but the tiny, dark-wood, dining roof with a fireplace and numerous prints of Civil War scenes. There are also a couple of wall menus that run down the simple list of mostly-less-than-$10 options. Hamburger, frankfurter, beef plate (a kind of Salisbury Steak deluxe). The menu's also on your place mat if it's too much for you to look up. But this place is all about the roast beef sandwich. After all, there are many signs outside, both neon and wooden, that proclaim (somewhat lasciviously) "Hot Beef." Most who park their ample kiesters here order it, many going for the "double dip," which means the sandwich is coated in so much broth that you have to carve it with a fork and knife. It's impossible to pick it up with your hands.
I do wonder at anyone who does not order the roast beef here. It is easily one of the top 25 things you can eat in New York. Succulent and flavorful. One of the scions of either Brennan or Carr (I don't know which) explained why this is. The restaurant has had a relationship with the same Iowa beef provider for a half century. It's a matter of trust and quality between these two. The same beef is passed through Brennan and Carr's 60-year-old meat grinders to make the hamburgers. Only two men are allowed to touch this ancient grinder. And the Coke you order is Coke. "Some will put Coke on the menu, but what you get is not Coke, but some cola," said the owner. The authenticity of every item on the menu seems to count here. (That said, my cheese fries were covered with Velveeta. Not that I minded much.)
"I hear this place is popular with firemen and policemen," I asked my waiter, a bald, mountain of a man is a prim white waiter's jacket. He, too, made me think of Peter Luger's. "You heard right," he said, laughing. It's also popular with working men. Many of the diners were wearing jackets that bore the name of the company worked for. There were also old folks who had spent decades in Sheepshead Bay, and young people who seemed oblivious to the joint's history, who only wanted a burger and a coke.
The place is still in the family, and, yes, they own the building. (Damn, they probably built it.) No reservations. No credit cards. You pay at the cash register, like at a diner. And the only beer on tap is Bud Light. Which, it turns out, is just right with the beef.
—Brooks of Sheffield