Tweed’s: Turn Of The Century Charm

A trip to Tweed’s, the steakhouse and buffalo bar in Riverhead, is a trip back in time. That’s not a cute euphemism, either. The building that houses the iconic Main Street restaurant, a brick façade with gas-lit lanterns, was erected in 1896 and has operated as the 14-room J.J. Sullivan Hotel ever since. Turn-of-the-century charm and details have been painstakingly restored to recall the space’s provenance. The hotel was originally built by Tammany Hall crony John J. Sullivan and became, necessarily, entrenched in American political history forever after.

Known affectionately — or maybe not so affectionately — as the “Tammany Hall of the County Seat,” the restaurant and hotel have played host to many a political meal. If only the walls could talk. Above the restaurant, the rooms are small, though quaint and comfortable. The restaurant itself, outfitted with a mahogany bar from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, boasts time period-appropriate paraphernalia: Victorian light fixtures, an oak fireplace mantel recovered from a South Carolina mansion, armchairs, and various other bespoke artifacts.

Wooden chairs with leather seats. The stuffed head of the final bison ever shot by Theodore Roosevelt. Ancient photographs of downtown Riverhead. History opens up in the dining room here.

New York City politicians (most notably, the Democratic politician “Boss” Tweed, known for his cronyism) frequented Tweed’s, giving it caché, though eventually, like much of Riverhead, the restaurant fell into disrepair. In the early 2000s, Tweed’s underwent a renovation, including a restoration of the façade.

But these days, politics play nearly no role in the iconic restaurant, which is now known for its superlative steaks and, yes, bison. A sprawling menu covers most bases. Raw bar? Check. Classic steakhouse Caesar salad? Check. A play on shrimp cocktail? You guessed it. In addition to red meat, entrées include Long Island duck, roasted chicken, seared tuna, baked salmon, veal chops, and Portobello mushrooms.

And then, of course, there are the steaks.

The list of beef and bison feels nearly endless. There is a hanger steak, served with a mushroom-Cognac cream sauce, and a filet mignon with a tarragon demi-glace. A grilled New York strip comes with crispy leeks. Prime rib? It’s here. There is a beef burger, of course, with cheese, onions, mushrooms, and bacon. There’s also a bison burger, offered with the same accouterment.

As for bison, there is plenty to enjoy, from the appetizer of bison carpaccio to the grilled bison filet to the bison T-bone steak. But the most impressive dish on the menu is the hulking grilled bison cowboy steak, a cut I have never before seen from this animal. It is a massive, impressive thing, arriving on the bone and with an ample helping of maître d’ butter. Bison is leaner than beef, and the steak benefits from the melting fat of the butter (which can feel, atop a beef rib eye, like overkill, if such a thing exists).

If this feels like not-enough-bison for your particular taste, you can opt to purchase more to bring home. The restaurant sells bison hanger steaks, filets, cowboy steaks, T-bones, and chop meat for those eager to try their hands at bison on the backyard grill.

If dessert at a steakhouse often feels like an afterthought, think twice about skipping it at Tweed’s, where the crème brûlée is ever delicate and trapped beneath a thick disk of caramelized sugar. All steakhouse meals should end, I think, with a piece of inappropriately caloric chocolate cake, and Tweed’s takes its seriously enough. What’s the harm in a piece of cake, anyway? You can always take the rest home — assuming there’s anything left to save.

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