To say that Charlie’s Steak House is one of New Orleans’ great restaurants fails to underline just how deeply ingrained Charlie’s is in the fabric of this city. The restaurant is the oldest steakhouse in a city that has an integral (if sometimes overlooked) connection to the history of steak in the United States. Along with being the originator of steak in New Orleans, it’s also the seventh-oldest restaurant in this city.
When you enter Charlie’s Steak House, which is located Uptown on Dryades Street, you immediately get a sense of that long and significant lineage. The dining rooms exude comfort and security, creating a place that generations of New Orleanians have come to eat steak and see their neighbors and friends. Like a good neighborhood bar, Charlie’s has garnered a large and loyal following and continues to adhere to the traditions that drew the first customers through the door.
It’s a simple formula that’s been fine-tuned over many decades. Charlie’s has no menus: you order steaks and select sides from those suggested by the excellent and welcoming waitstaff. The steaks come out of the kitchen on sizzling platters — Charlie’s was the first local restaurant to do so, ever since founder Charlie Petrossi brought about this innovation — and the intoxicating waft of perfectly cooked meat hits well before the plate is in front of you.
Like watching the Saints in the Superdome, Mardi Gras, Second Line parades, and 3-7 p.m. happy hours, Charlie’s is just something you have to do in New Orleans.
The classic Bleu wedge salad is another item that Charlie’s Steak House first introduced to New Orleans cuisine, and it enhances the central element of your meal: premium cuts of steak. The fries pair perfectly with the meat (and the array of beer and wine). And even though Charlie’s has a relaxed atmosphere, it feels like an event when the food hits the table. The restaurant pulls you in, and it’ll take only one bite of the T-bone to have you hooked.
Over the years at Charlie’s there’s been a de facto men’s club downstairs and an impromptu ladies club upstairs; the walls have memorabilia from around New Orleans and the region, whether it’s an Elvis Presley cutout or (my favorite) a New Orleans Jazz pennant flag. These little slivers of history that have remained throughout the restaurant’s lifespan make Charlie’s what it is.
Tom Fitzmorris, one of the deans of New Orleans food and drink — he’s been publishing his newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, for almost forty years — says that in the aftermath Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant that more people asked about than any other was Charlie’s. In New Orleans and beyond, Charlie’s is beloved. Like watching the Saints in the Superdome, Mardi Gras, Second Line parades, and 3-7 p.m. happy hours, Charlie’s is just something you have to do in New Orleans.
One more thing: the night before I visited Charlie’s Steak House, I found myself in a YouTube loop, watching Drew Brees’ pregame chants. To watch Brees play “hype man” for the rest of his team is a true joy, and I won’t spoil your own viewing pleasure by describing it in detail, but suffice to say the intensity that New Orleans’ favorite adopted son brings to in-game action is matched by his pregame behavior. I am obsessed with Drew Brees, and on finding out that the Saints quarterback is a fan of Charlie’s, I had to know his order.
Charlie’s general manager, Glenn Bove, told me that Brees has his steak with no butter. On the field and off, Brees makes sacrifices that I’d never be willing to make.