01 March 2007

The Fall of the Chop

Steaks. Seafood. Chops.

We've all seen these three worlds etched in neon on some of the city's older restaurant signs. They are almost always seen together, with "Seafood" occasionaly omitted, as if this trio of hearty foodstuffs were all that people once ate in New York (which may have been the case).

But "Chops" is always the one that seems alien, the one that makes people chuckle. Steaks we know. It's the all-American meal. The city is lousy with Steakhouses, both old and new. Seafood we're familiar with. The Lobster Palaces like Rector's are gone, but a whole lobster is still a dreamed-of meal. And the Oyster Bar is still a familiar concept.

But what of the chop? To judge from the signs, the chop (the mutton chop, I imagine, is mainly what we're taking about here) was once a mighty entree, desired by all. They even named a popular Victorian form of facial hair after it. But how the mighty have fallen. Sure, a chop is offered on the menu of nearly every Steakhouse around, but who orders it? It's as neglected as the chicken option. And the chops offered these days are not the mutton of old, but a pork chop, a decidedly declasse cut of meat to most diners. Keen's offers a mutton chop, but a recent Times story revealed that it is actually lamb.

Keen's is an object lesson in itself. It used to be called Keen's Chophouse, which shows how the idea of a house of chops once appealed to a broad section of Americans. But sometime in the '90s, it changed its name, realizing people now only understand what a Steakhouse is, and perhaps not wanting to be confused with those places that disassemble stolen cars.

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