Expect the Worst From Tad’s Broiled Steaks, and You Won’t be Disappointed
Life is all about expectations. Go into a meal expecting greatness, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll probably leave disappointed. Go into a meal expecting to die, and you’ve got a good chance of walking out feeling like a winner. In those special cases, leaving without feeling sick is a pleasant accomplishment in and of itself. And that is how I felt walking into Tad’s Steaks on Thursday. I was scared. Real scared.
I would call Tad’s a fast food steak place, but that doesn’t really do it justice. It is a Midtown institution- if by institution you mean place everyone knows about. If a restaurant has to be eaten in to qualify, than maybe institution isn’t the proper term. In fact, while most people have a very strong (negative) opinion about Tad’s, few people have actually eaten there. See, there are three kinds of people who lunch in Midtown:
1. Those who have braved a meal at Tad’s, and come away sick or disgusted (a few people I know.)
2. Those who have braved a meal at Tad’s, and thought it was good enough to return (uh, only one person I know, and he accompanied me on this trip.)
3. And everyone else. The haters who have never been, but will not hesitate to tell you how terrible Tad’s must be.
I’ve always been a card carrying member of that last group. I didn’t need to eat at Tad’s to know it was terrible. Whether it’s the already poured glasses of wine, stacked on the counter, covered in saran wrap; or the interior that hasn’t been changed (or probably cleaned) since 1974, Tad’s is not very welcoming. Even the $7 steak lunch special, which should be selling point enough (for its cheapness), ends up doing the opposite. Why is this so cheap? How can they make a steak so cheap? You know what? Scratch that. I don’t want to know.
A year and a half ago I wrote these words: “Got something you’ve seen in Midtown that you’re afraid to try? Email me or post a comment about the place. I’ll go, eat the thing, and write about it here on midtownlunch.com Give me your best shot…”
I knew eventually somebody would make me pay, and 18 months later I found myself walking into the Tad’s Steaks on 7th Avenue btw. 46+47th. See, I’m not sure that all Tad’s are created equal. If you’ve ever walked by the Tad’s on Broadway & 51st you probably fall into the #3 category of people above. It looks kind of disgusting. I mean, really disgusting. There never seems to be anybody in there, and the whole place has the creepiness of a 70s slashes flick. In contrast, the Tad’s on 47th is only slightly disgusting.
Actually, maybe it wasn’t disgusting at all. There were balloons. And a line. That’s right… a line. Did you know that people actually wait in line to eat food from Tad’s? 9 people to be exact. There were 9 people ahead of us in line, and since they cook all the steaks to order, so it ended up taking 15-20 minutes to get our food. And by that time, there were 9 people behind us. At this point, I admit I was feeling a lot less frightened. Some of these people even looked like real pros (i.e. fat). One guy had more on his tray than I eat in a whole day (I tried in vain to find that combo on the menu, but couldn’t), and the rest of the folks looked like they knew what they were doing. Hey, if Tad’s is good enough for repeat visitors to wait 15 mins in a line, it’s good enough for me.
Another misconception about Tad’s is that it’s cheap. It’s actually not that cheap. (Well, maybe for steak it’s cheap.) The regular menu is filled with steaks that are over $10. And while nothing tops $20, I was surprised to find that unless you get the lunch special, Tad’s is actually out of the Midtown Lunch price range. Lucky for us they offer the (mind boggling, possibly harmful to their reputation because you wonder how it is so cheap) deal. $6.99 gets you a steak, baked or mashed potato, salad, and garlic bread. It just doesn’t seem right.
When you make it to within earshot of the grill, the cook will take your order, complete with how you want it cooked. For the lunch special, you get your choice of strip steak or cowboy steak (which is just a skirt steak.) My buddy (the one listed as a #2 above) got the strip steak, so for the sake of thoroughness I went with the cowboy, cooked medium. Conventional wisdom would probably have you ordering your steak well done at a place like Tad’s (cook the the hell out of that possibly rancid meat) but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Medium was my compromise. Raw steak goes on the grill, and 7-10 mins later you’re ready to go, every step of the spectacle there for you to watch (another strangely comforting aspect of Tad’s that you don’t get from most fast food chains in the city.)
Once the steak was done, it gets put on a plate with the potato and “garlic bread” (which is actually more like half of a loaf of Italian bread.) For 50 cents extra, they’ll give you a hearty scoop of grilled onions, which I consider to be a must, and after that you’ll get asked if you want gravy, which brought me to another realization. When it comes to Tad’s most people worry about getting sick from the meat. To them I say “Don’t be foolish!” What you need to worry about is the gravy. Of a completely unknown providence, the people behind the counter are willing to ladle the “gravy” over everything, and if you have ever tried it, you will find it hard to stop them. I’m not saying the gravy is the best thing you’ve ever tasted. I’m saying I don’t know if I would call it gravy. Maybe flavor juice is a better term. Wait, juice is probably not right either. Um… flavor grease. Yeah, that’s perfect. As much as you will want to, don’t drink a cup of the flavor grease. That is probably what will make you sick.
Passing by the pre-cut desserts and saran wrap topped wine (stay classy Tad’s!) was not a difficult decision. I chose my salad dressing, declined the tomatoes (which cost extra if you want them on your salad) and headed back to the depression zone eating area to dig in. First things first. Garlic bread. Delicious. You may say the secret ingredient is flavor grease. Obligatory bite of salad (look Mom I’m being healthy!) and I was ready. First bite of skirt steak, sans onions to allow the true flavor to shine through. Nicely seasoned… good char… not dry in the middle. Wish it was bigger… but for $7 bucks what are you going to do. Second bite… add the onions… even better.
Fuck. I think I like Tad’s Steaks.
Seriously. This place is not that bad. Is it the best steak I’ve ever had? Of course not. Don’t be a crazy person. But it wasn’t the worst either. And if you like skirt steak, it may be the perfect choice at a place like Tad’s. The fat is found along the grain of the meat, so it melts in and keeps the steak moist despite being blasted on the grill. It’s already a fairly cheap cut of meat, and tends to be slightly chewy anyway, so you don’t notice too much of a decrease in quality, and the price becomes a little more understandable. My buddy liked his strip steak all right, but if you’ve ever had a great strip steak, you might not be as into this thin piece of cheap meat. It’s clearly of a lower quality, and the fat can be found along the edges of the steak in the form of gristly bites of meat. It’s still worth the $7 though if you’re not into skirt steak.
The real test came after lunch, as I waited for the bomb to drop. Did I feel amazing coming out of Tad’s, dancing out into Times Square “On the Town” style? (Yes, I was in theater geek in Junior high.) Uh… no. I felt like I had just eaten a gross lunch that consisted of a steak, baked potato, salad and a loaf of bread covered in flavor grease. But “sick” or “unhappy” is not a word I would use to describe my experience.
Finally, a few very important notes about Tad’s:
1. I cannot speak to the quality of all Tad’s locations. In other words, this review only stands for the 47th St. location. You step into 34th St. (and 7th) or 50th St. (and 7th) you are on your own.
2. The baked potato is a baked potato. They don’t give you sour cream, and their “butter” is those weird little packs of processed butter substitute (i.e. disgusting.) I know it may go against my previous warnings, but tell them to pour gravy over it. You won’t be disappointed. Unless disappointed means “slightly sick.”
3. I admit that maybe I got lucky. Food poisoning is a lot like Russian roulette, and maybe I just dodged a bullet. I also have been training for this moment for 2 1/2 years, putting lunch after lunch of questionable items into my stomach- turning it into the well oiled (pun intended) machine that you rely on day after day on this site.
For these reasons (and more) I will now indemnify myself of all blame for Midtown Lunch’ers eating at Tad’s because of this review. A message from my lawyer:
THIS MEAL WAS CONSUMED BY A PROFESSIONAL. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION. WRITER WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE INFLICTED BY A MEAL AT TAD’S STEAKS. WRITER ALSO APOLOGIZES THAT HIS STOMACH IS SO STRONG AND AMAZING.
Oh, and make sure you have low expectations.
Tad’s Steaks, Multiple Locations
- 761 7th Ave. (at 50th St.) 212-767-8348
- 701 7th Ave. (at 47th St.) 212-768-0946
- 152 34th St. (at 7th Ave.) 212-947-7760