First comes the wave of salt. Then the beefy funk. Then the hearty chew. All good steaks have these fine characteristics, but few steaks have it as good as the legendary bone-in strip at Minetta Tavern. Keith McNally's chic downtown hangout is just one of three New York chophouses with a Michelin Star. And with such rarefied company comes a rarefied price: the strip now costs $61.
Some will call it a modest $2 hike from this summer's asking price of $59. But more historically-minded diners will say it's a steep 69 percent increase from the original price of $36 in 2009, the year Minetta re-opened under McNally's stewardship. Add on tax and tip and you're at $79 for a single entree. Throw in a side of pommes aligot and a boulevardier cocktail, and all of a sudden you're at $111, a steep bill for a single course.
Sure, spendier strip steaks "for one" can be found at Midtown power spots; The Back Room at the brand new Park Hyatt Hotel thinks people will pay $79 for its bone-in version (we'll see about that). But for now, let's just agree that the Minetta Strip, sourced from Creekstone Farms, aged for at least 45-days, and weighing in at 26-28oz, is the most iconic of the bunch, and possibly the most expensive non-Wagyu strip at a hip downtown restaurant. It all prompts the question: Why the [bleep] does it cost so much?
Briefly, a lot of course has changed in the world of beef since 2009. Texas droughts have hit the U.S. cattle population hard, with The Houston Chronicle reporting a 34 percent increase in wholesale beef prices over the past half-decade. Just over the past twelve months, the price of uncooked "beef steaks" has risen by nearly 16 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But why specifically does Minetta Tavern's strip steak cost what it does? Andrew Carmellini's The Dutch, by contrast, has held its Prime strip at $52 since early 2012. And will Minetta's cote de boeuf for two, once $90, and now $145, see further price hikes in the coming months? To answer those questions, chef William Brasile was nice enough to chat with this reporter via email. Here's what he had to say:
Why did you recently increase the price of Minetta's strip steak? We increased to $60 at lunch and $61 at dinner to reflect substantial increases in cost, which has increased by 14 percent in the last five months. The price increase has not significantly impacted sales. Many of our guests come to Minetta Tavern for the meat and understand the high value and quality. Because the cost of meat has increased, guests should be seeing increased prices throughout the city. Price increases that are passed on to Minetta Tavern’s customers (about 3 percent) are lower than the price increase the restaurant incurred for the cost of meat (14 percent).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that overall beef and veal prices are up 15 percent over the past year, with steak prices up even more. I'd be curious to hear whether the Prime beef you buy has increased as much or more over the same time period. This year, our beef prices have increased from 10 percent up to 25 percent on some items. Our experience is definitely consistent with current statistics.
What about your price increases over the years? The strip steak was once $37 and the cote de boeuf was $90; have those hikes had a negative impact on sales? Yes, we sold more premium steaks in the beginning than we do now, perhaps due their initial publicity as well as lower prices. However beef items still lead our menu sales by a considerable margin.
Do you find a lot of folks sharing the strip steak given its cost? Yes, guests do share the steak. Cost may be a factor, but its size is easily accommodates two diners. We like to encourage sharing items at table, so people can sample more dishes such as the daily specials and new menu items.
Do you have any plans on raising the price of the cote de boeuf for two, which has remained at $145 since December 2013 or thereabouts? No, the Cote de boeuf will remain the same for now. However, we have absorbed a 20 percent increase in cost on this item in 2014.
Do you find it harder and harder to find quality USDA Prime beef given the state of the U.S. cattle industry, and given the high demand for that product? Our relationship with Pat LaFrieda meats and the exclusivity of the prime Creekstone beef that they have agreed to provide has insulated us somewhat from supply chain issues, however the drought and other economic and weather conditions do affect consistency and price.
Is there anything I'm not asking about Minetta's steaks (or the U.S. beef industry) that I should be? Yes, why hasn’t President Obama had one yet?