The 1 Peter Luger Dish You Can Only Get In Vegas (And 1 You Won't)

What's the farthest you'd travel for a really great dinner? Like, a really, really great dinner: the kind of place known around the world, where reservations can be a tough get for months? In our case, it was 2,250 miles from New York City to Las Vegas to attend the opening of Peter Luger's new location at Caesar's Palace.

You might call that a frivolous trip, considering we started out a shorter subway ride from the original restaurant than the distance to the airport, but hear us out: there's one item on the menu at the Las Vegas installment that you can't get in New York, even if you drive out east to Long Island's Great Neck location.

There's a shellfish tower only served here in the desert, and it's everything you hope it would be. Peter Luger, Nevada edition, a massive bounty from the surf that will satisfy the hungriest pack of turfgrazers looking to try something new. We made our way west to attend the official grand opening party of the already-operating restaurant and try these fruits of the sea for ourselves. There, we asked Daniel Turtel, Luger's vice president and member of its longtime owners, the Forman family, about the expansion, the new dish, and one menu change Luger won't make.

The shellfish tower personifies a more luxurious Luger

The new menu item offers a feast for giants with deep pockets: shrimp the size of a hot dog, Maine lobster sliced in half, oysters still salty, and king crab legs so sweet you want to suck the exoskeleton dry. Only the chicken lobster skews smaller than normal, and that's so you can snarf half or all of one without getting too full to try the rest. Everything else embodies the full-throttle feel of revelry in Vegas, a town that made its rep on neon and Americana in the swinging jet age, and has relentlessly modernized itself ever since, including the recent eruption of The Sphere, possibly the most 21st-century piece of architecture yet conceived: all cameras and screens, and frequently the world's largest emoji.

Back in Brooklyn, Peter Luger's old-school, take-it-or-leave-it attractiveness is a safehouse for the New York no-BS attitude. With darkly paneled wood and thick glass that protects it from the blasting cold winds off the East River, it's easy to step in and lose any sense of the outside world.

But casinos also thrive at creating their own pocket universes where circadian rhythms are kept at bay. And while it's a bit more ornate in some spots and sleeker in others, the new location recreates much of the Luger vibe without feeling insta-assembled or without character. Here, you're invited to not just treat yourself but to indulge in a rare banquet meant for celebration.

Caesar's has been trying to get Luger out there for ages

"Gary Selesner, who's the head of Caesars, started calling my grandmother, like, 30 years ago," Daniel Turtel says, "and she was hanging up on him and hanging up on him, but he was very persistent."

Since then, conditions have improved to scale Luger operations without sacrificing its reputation. "The beef industry has changed. Thirty years ago, you couldn't fill up another steakhouse with our quality steak. Now you can. Things have gotten better in terms of primal [cuts] and you can consistently find a good supply, so it's opened some doors."

With that room to expand, location still matters. And while it seems like every coastal try-before-you-die venue seems to matriculate here eventually (with Luger itself occupying the former space that until recently hosted fellow NYC tough-rez Rao's), Turtel says the hospitality industry has to perform on a level of service rarely matched.

"Vegas is one of the — if not the — place in the world where you have the best staff available and it's a standing population of real professionals and they're ready to be back," he says.

The seafood tower is a Vegas signature

Vegas boasts its seafood stacks. The Strip thrives on flash and panache meant to peacock and amaze, which cascading seafood achieves even if not in the desert. New York is mainly lacking in such servings. You can order a seafood tower at Balthazar, but it's remarkably absent from the rest of the restaurant landscape, according to Eric Ripert.

Meanwhile, Luger's built its reputation on no-malarkey, even crusty, service that focused on good beef, classic aesthetics jaw-dropping (and filling) rich desserts topped with that famous schlag: the direct opposite of Vegas glamor ...

... But also the embodiment of the two places' shared sanguine approach to rich eating. The origins of New York steakhouse culture prevail to this day, as a macho spot to eat way more than the recommended serving of meat. Similarly, Vegas built its buffets and fine dining on the idea that regular people could live like royalty for a few days. With both of those comes an eye-boggling array of animal proteins.

And when you get down to it, is stacking seafood far from the shore any odder a flourish than New York's pride in its steaks so far from any ranch?

New facilities let Luger expand menu options

Prior to pollution, New York was once a seafood town on par with Boston or Seattle. Locally sourced oyster feasts were a New York experience more ceremonially institutional to life there than the steakhouse experience itself (although often intertwined). Pearl Street even purportedly got its name for its abundant oyster harvests going back long before colonialism. (Vegas tradition loves itself an oyster bar too.) 

All of which is to ask, why isn't a steakhouse that dates back to those less polluted days equipped to provide a feast like this?

"We would honestly love to have a seafood tower in Brooklyn," says Daniel Turtel. Unfortunately, "That restaurant's been open since 1887," noting that it's added three dining rooms since, but the kitchen hasn't grown proportionally.  "You're constricted by what you can do. You're tough on space," he says, amid eight broilers running at 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, and adding workstations for chilled seafood is daunting.

"If we wanted to prepare seafood in the right way here in Brooklyn, we'd really have to reconfigure the kitchen to allow for it," Turtel says, and the extended shutdown required to do so would result in a huge revenue loss. While Luger's Great Neck location does serve hot lobster, the same limitations prevent it from tackling a full seafood program. The expansive kitchen in Vegas is a chance to do something the restaurant has always eyeballed as a possibility.

But don't expect Luger to start serving filet mignon

There's another dish by which Vegas venues get judged when it fits their classic American menus. However, you won't find it here at Luger's, even though the restaurant boasts one of the most definitive and oldest menus in American history.

"There were two things they told us when we came to Vegas: you need a filet and you need a seafood tower," says Turtel, who, with his restaurant's characteristic certitude, scoffs at changing its ways regarding steak. "We're like, we're not gonna do a filet because we don't do that. You could have a filet as part of the porterhouse."

Seafood, however, interested the New York steakhouse as a path to growth that stays on brand. Turns out even a famously staid steakhouse can't resist zhuzhing it up a bit in Las Vegas. Turtel smiles as he continues. "The seafood tower we conceded on and I'm glad we did," he says, "because it's pretty awesome."