Jane Stern: Joseph’s is the best steakhouse in Connecticut

Photo of Jane Stern

I have eaten at Joseph’s many times over the years, but it is very expensive, so I try to limit my visits. I like steak and I like steakhouses, so the overwhelming urge to return to this phenomenal place had me in my car heading toward Bridgeport.

I think it is accurate and fair to say that Joseph’s is the best steakhouse in Connecticut. On this visit I was struck yet again with the perfection of it. As a restaurant critic, I am, well critical. Give me a menu and I will find the typos, give me a table and I will say it is right near the bathroom, give me a fanciful craft cocktail, and I will say why bother, bring me a gin and tonic. With all my critical radar in tip-top shape, I could not find one single thing about my meal at Joseph’s that was subpar.

The restaurant itself looks like what a steakhouse should look like. Lots of wood, not chic or faux fancy but as neat as a Marine barracks. The napkins are ironed, the room tone cheerful but quiet, and the waitstaff doing the difficult task of anticipating your demands yet being invisible when you don’t need something. There is little that can turn me off faster then a waiter standing and staring at me. If I am recognized as a food critic, the waiter practically sits in my lap.

Joseph’s is run by Joseph Kustra, who learned the restaurant trade by working for 15 years at Peter Luger in Brooklyn. Peter Luger is the hallmark by which all steakhouses are measured. It always wins best steakhouse awards in every magazine and newspaper and because of its popularity it can be difficult to get a table. At Joseph’s, you get the whole Peter Luger’s experience with none of the New York hassles.

Joesph’s Steakhouse

360 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport

Joseph’s has basically cloned Peter Luger’s in the center of Bridgeport. Like Brooklyn, Bridgeport has an urban gritty feel, it is not a restaurant you go to for the scenic view.

I dined with a friend who is fun to eat with, as she has a very healthy appetite and swoons with me at four-star food. Of course, steaks are the main attraction here but there are other wonderful entrees. My friend had a craving for great lamb chops and I remembered they were on the menu here. For weeks before we went I would send her an email tease simply saying “Lamb Chops!”

As soon as we were seated I ordered a whiskey sour. My heart was aflutter because Joseph’s has a menu page devoted to classic cocktails. As someone who has yet to have a good “craft” cocktail, I was in heaven seeing Manhattans, old fashioneds, whiskey sours, etc., on the menu. The whiskey sour was ice cold, tart and sweet, and it had the correct complement of maraschino cherry and orange slice. Perfect. Something does not become a classic if it is second rate.

Now I must warn you that one pitfall at Joseph’s is ordering too much. My friend wanted appetizers and a salad before the lamb chops and she gave me the stink eye when I said, “That’s too much food.”

I knew the size of the portions here and for two ladies it was going to be just too much. Let me amend that. Ordering multi courses would not be a problem if the appetizers and salad were so-so (I do this all the time at lesser restaurants ... take a bite and say “next”) but at Joseph’s it is hard to take one bite of this spectacular food and move on. Do you really want to be full of bread and salad when the steak appears?

I ordered a meal as simple as possible and when the food arrived I could not have been happier with my restraint. I had a Porterhouse for one with a side of mashed potatoes and side of creamed spinach. My friend had the lamb chops and a side of sautéed mushrooms. The waiter told us that one side dish would feed two and suggested we did not need more than one order of mashed potatoes and spinach.

My friend and I could not entirely resist the first-rate bread and butter placed on the table, but I was practically drooling when my Porterhouse was placed in front of me. It is the steak of my dreams, and the steak I have tried to replicate (unsuccessfully) in my home kitchen for decades. Warm pink on the inside and charred on the outside, the large steak is served cut into manageable pieces separated from the bone. The mashed potatoes were not at all lumpy, creamy and perfectly prepared. The creamed spinach was as good as my previous benchmark for creamed spinach, which happens to be Peter Luger. Could the recipe have migrated from Brooklyn to Bridgeport?

My friend got three large lamb chops. She took one bite and was transported to lamb chop heaven. She hardly talked for the rest of the meal because her mouth was busy. With the cocktails, bread, meat and side dishes, we were stuffed. As tempting as it was to order dessert, we passed.

Although my friend and I were satiated, my mind wandered to what I did not order from the menu. I envied competitive eater Joey Chestnut, who every year at Coney Island wins the contest for eating the most Nathan’s hotdogs. I think he ate 76 this year. I wanted a stomach as big as his so I could cozy up to Joseph’s entire menu. The fly in the ointment was that a ton of food at Joseph’s translates to a bill the size of my mortgage, so I was happy with what I had.

Although I ordered modestly, it was still the most expensive meal I have had this year, but it was worth every dollar. I can’t wait to return to Joseph’s, and that is something I rarely say about a place I have just reviewed. I could happily live in my car parked in Joseph’s parking lot. I could smell the steaks cooking and hear them sizzle. Bliss.

Jane Stern is co-author of the long-running “Roadfood” series.