THE OFT-LOST ART OF OLD-WORLD DINING THRIVES IN THIS CLASSIC STEAKHOUSE AND SALOON BY AMANDA MCCOY PHOTOS
BY VIOLET MAYER PHOTOGRAPHY & AMANDA DOMENECH
Only a few blocks west of the Hoboken 14th Street Pier, light streams through antique stained glass windows, casting a soft ambient glow on the leafy corner of 14th and Garden. This is where one of the city’s most treasured fixtures rests, a classic 19th century saloon that takes patrons on a pilgrimage back through time, to a place where hearts and bellies are warmed through passion, piano, and prime-cut steaks.
A classic fine-dining steakhouse, Dino & Harry’s was founded in 1991 by Dino Panopoulos and his father Harry in a former longshoreman’s saloon circa the late 1800s. The historic locale has appeared in several major films, including the Marlon Brando classic On The Waterfront and, mostly recently, the Aaron Sorkin directed The Trial of the Chicago 7 (starring Sacha Baron Cohen), in a scene where a tussle breaks out between rioters and police. New York Yankees, New Jersey Devils, prominent politicians, and A-list movie stars have all dined here.
“Since we opened 30 years ago, the restaurant has only gotten better and better,” noted general manager Nick Megdanis, who was a loyal Dino & Harry’s patron long before he took over the restaurant’s daily operations three years ago. “This is a longstanding neighborhood establishment. People come here for occasions, to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, and more. There’s so much character here, and that hasn’t changed.”
Upon approach, patrons are treated to the sounds of laughter and clinking rocks glasses from the lively outdoor tables that line Garden Street, perched under a canopy with lights and heat lamps for chillier evenings. The front door leads to a time capsule interior, set in the late 19th century, where longshoremen used to swap stories over whiskey after a laborious day at the pier. The décor is a collection of antiques. A 150-year-old clock keeps watch over the space, and original tile floors prop up white tablecloth-topped wooden tables and chairs. A long, hand-carved cherry wood bar runs the length of the restaurant, where mixologists donning ties and crisp white button-downs serve classic dirty martinis and Manhattans.
Megdanis continued: “Everything inside is original: the wood on the bar, the molding on the mirrors, the clock, the tiles. When you step inside, you feel like you’re in a period-piece movie.”
A grand piano nestled in the bar area is helmed every Tuesday through Saturday beginning around 6:30 p.m., serenading diners through an eclectic range of genres, from jazz and big band to classic rock. The best of Frank Sinatra is a mainstay, a fitting choice since Hoboken is ‘Ol Blue Eyes’ hometown.
“The sounds of the piano fill up the entire room,” said Megdanis. “That’s what greets people. The music spreads everywhere because the restaurant is made entirely of glass, mirrors, wood, and high tin ceilings. There’s also the sound of glasses clinking, people celebrating, and steaks sizzling as they’re thrown onto the table, which adds to the full experience.”
The menu harbors all the cornerstones of an old-school steakhouse; Midwest-raised, grass-fed meats are dry-aged in-house for three weeks and accompanied by hearty portions of creamed spinach, truffle gnocchi smothered in a three-cheese sauce, or corn crème brulée (there are 15 total a la carte sides to choose from). Steak options span 16 or 22-oz sirloins, filet mignon, juicy ribeyes, and a prime-aged porterhouse for one, two, or three people.
Red-meat alternatives also run the gamut, including a plump piece of salmon, blackened and finished with an heirloom tomato, avocado, and red onion salad. Atlantic cod swims in a broth of leeks, tomatoes, chickpeas, and chorizo, while scallops are pan-seared and dressed with saffron risotto and asparagus with a porcini cream sauce. There are several pastas on deck, including rigatoni with spicy sausage; penne cacio e pepe with asparagus, fresh peas, and pecorino cheese; and an old-world classic: homemade ravioli, crafted from scratch each day
“My recommendation for first-timers is to come hungry,” laughed the GM, who jovially admitted he once fasted all day in anticipation of a Dino & Harry’s meal. “And don’t be afraid to ask the servers questions; they are very knowledgeable about the menu.”
The wine list is fittingly expansive, divided into two categories: old world and new. Time-tested classics span fine French Bordeaux, hearty Tuscan reds, Burgundy chardonnay, Spanish reserves, Champagne, and more, while contemporary varietals include a vast array of California cult favorites plus options from Australia and South America. Megdanis noted cocktails are also popular, especially the staples. “We pour some of the best dirty martinis around,” he added.
Megdanis said that after only a few visits, patrons can look forward to a familial return, as the staff makes the effort to remember every regular’s name and make them feel as if they were dining at home just with their own personal pianist, of course.
“It’s a high-energy, fast-paced environment, but it’s still very neighborly,” he said. “Hoboken is a small town. When people walk in, others get out of their seats to hug each other. It’s a big family. People often tell me they don’t feel like they are in a restaurant, just hanging out with friends. I think it’s so important to show love to your customers, because this place wouldn’t be anything without them.”
Dino & Harry’s Steakhouse
163 14th Street, Hoboken / 201.659.6202 / dinoandharrys.com