J&R’s Steak House
1320 Stony Brook Road
Stony Brook, NY
I found myself driving around Long Island one night, in an area that could generously be called a wasteland, nothing but stores and parking lots as far as the eye can see. After much cursing at the local population’s inattention to speed limits and traffic laws, I discovered the strip mall, built in the style of a Swiss chalet, which houses J&R’s Steak House.
I sat in the middle of the main dining room, where the carpet looks like that of a cheap motel lobby, and where there’s a wall of Polaroid pictures bearing the weary faces of those who tried to climb the Everest that is the 76 oz. steak-eating challenge. All I could think about when I saw those photographs tacked to the wall was how they looked like a memorial.
I stared at the menu, which had no vegetarian entrées. Above the din of Long Island accents, I heard a snortle and turned around. I saw, squeezing between table and chair, a lone-dining pig sporting a plaid jacket and flashy wristwatch around his left trotter. The pink of his elongated face was mottled with brown spots. His jowls jiggled as he struggled to tuck a napkin into his collar.
The pig spotted me watching him. I rubbed my eyes and pressed my forefingers into my temples, rotating them in little circles and telling myself that if I didn’t believe it was there, it would go away.
I felt the table bump against me and heard a saltshaker crash to the floor. Please don’t sit down, I thought.
“Don’t mind me,” the pig said in voice that sounded like hominy grits being blown through a tin horn. “Figured I’d join you so the both of us don’t look like schlubs eating alone,”
“I’m on business,” I said.
“You get paid to eat at JR?” he said.
“Not much,” I said.
“I worked in showbiz 40 years. I collected a check for all sorts of stupidity. But nothing beats getting paid to eat.”
He asked me my name, and I told him. He volunteered his: Kaz.
When the waitress came I cobbled together a meal of salad, an appetizer and sides. Kaz ordered JR’s double rack of baby back ribs.
When the waitress left I asked him, “Don’t you feel funny eating pork?”
“I kept kosher for almost 20 years. But now I come all the way out here from Commack for a double slab. Pork’s the best meat on Earth. I know, I’m made of it.”
“Don’t you ever think it might be a relative?” I said.
“Listen kid, I grew up on a farm, and I seen dogs that eats their young before they can run away. That’s the world we live in, and I ain’t here to change it.”
“How did you get off the farm and into that cheap suit?”
“I was a piglet on a hog farm in Vermont. One day I seen ’em burying a knife into my uncle’s gut. Next thing I know they’re after me. I didn’t know they just wanted to cut off my nuts. I bit that schmuck’s tokhes and made a run for it all the way to the Catskills. I was about to plotz I was so hungry, and then I seen another farm. I snook into the barn so I could eat something. Man in a black hat walks in and I thought I was a goner. But he didn’t kill me,” he said. “The farm was Jewish and Jews don’t eat pigs.”
“A safe bet for you,” I said.
“He did a mitzvah and raised me. One day the comedian Jack E. Leonard comes to buy milk and sees me. He gives some money to the farm and takes me around the Borscht Belt as part of his act. When he went Hollywood, I went Hollywood. I wrote most of his jokes, you know?”
The food began arriving. Portions were ridiculous. An order of garlic bread ($2.99) was five foot-long split loaves stacked up like Lincoln Logs—each with a papular rash covering its crust from being fresh out of the oven. Bite into one and butter runs down your chin.
I had a large garden salad with feta for the low, low price of $2.99. The lettuce was fresh but soggy—passable in all. I cannot say the same for the spinach and artichoke dip with tortilla chips ($6.45). It was some sort of misguided fusion that combined the worst parts of a potluck-appetizer and movie theater nachos.
From the side dishes, I tried Don’s Rice Pilaf (Don apparently calls regular, old yellow rice “pilaf”); creamed spinach, which was more muck; a pile of limp sweet potato fries; and broccoli with “cheddar cheese sauce,” which was, perhaps predictably, steaming heads engulfed in a lava flow of what tasted like Velveeta.
Kaz sat there gobbling every strand of muscle fiber from each little rib bone. I don’t know where hog heaven is, but for this pig it seemed to involve barbecue.
“I went with Jack to a diner in Hollywood,” Kaz started again, gesticulating with a rib bone crammed in his cloven hoof. “He told me to eat on his dime, but he had to run and he would meet me at the hotel. I ordered something called a ‘Big Star Burger.’ It was out-of-this-world. Jack comes back five minutes later ’cause his meeting was cancelled. He says, ‘Kaz, are you fucking crazy, that’s bacon!’”
“I cried my eyes out. I had broken the law of the Torah and I was a cannibal now. But then I got to thinking on both counts, that’s the way God made us—to kill each other; to eat each other. God can’t be wrong, right? You don’t got no choice.”
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J&R’s Steak House