Carlstadt, NJ Area Restaurants You Need to Know About: Steve’s Sizzling Steaks

As hot spots come and go, it is rare to find an establishment like Steve’s Sizzling Steaks that has not only survived but has thrived for more than 75 years.

Since its inception in 1936, Steve’s has focused on excellent food, comfortable ambience, and a friendly staff. The wood-paneled restaurant, rifles and other memorabilia hanging from its ceiling and walls, gives the feeling of being in a rustic hunting lodge. Steve’s is authentic, affordable, and welcoming.

Times have certainly changed since Steve’s was established 75 years ago. What has not, is the family atmosphere that makes Steve’s so special. “It has always been family serving family,” says Marie Venturini-Damiani, daughter of the founders, who at 85, is still a constant in the restaurant. Much of the staff has been part of the Steve’s family for more than two decades and are on a first-name basis with those who enter the door.

Steve, the restaurant’s namesake, was happily working as a union carpenter until he was injured on a job in 1926. This was the twist of fate that led him into the bar and restaurant business. He got a job tending bar at a local establishment not far from Steve’s. His wife, Mary Venturini, heard a local tavern, Connie’s Place, was going to be available for rent. Its location on the two-lane Route 2, a dirt road that ended in Rutherford, was ideal. Today, Route 2 is super-highway Route 17. Connie threw her last party on New Year’s Eve, 1935, and then turned the tavern over to Mary. Tables were added, a kitchen was assembled, and Mary started serving her popular foot-long hotdogs, frog legs, hamburgers, and steaks. Steve joined Mary at the tavern a month later and they eventually bought the restaurant from Connie for $732.14.

“My parents needed a name. My mom suggested Mary’s Steakhouse but my dad didn’t think that was appropriate for a steakhouse. Remember, back then, men were the ones who went out, not women. They decided on Steve’s,” explains Marie.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Steve thought a “sportsman club” would be fitting. He was shocked to walk into the restaurant the next day and find that his wife had hung his rifles and fishing rods from the ceiling, remembers Marie, who grew up in the restaurant. They are still in the restaurant today.

Steve was a larger-than-life figure. Many came in as much for the food and drink as to see Steve who survived not one, but two airplane crashes. On February 5, 1952, Steve was on a National Airlines flight that had just taken off from Newark Airport headed for Miami where he was going to spend the week fishing. The plane crashed in Elizabeth killing 30. Although injured, Steve survived. He carried his friend, Charles Griffin, to safety and returned into the tangled remains of the airliner to help others. It took an explosion and severe head injury to stop him. Ironically, a few years later, Steve was in a prop plane headed to Cuba where he was to go fishing with Ernest Hemingway, and that plane went down. He survived yet again. Hemingway wasn’t the only icon Steve fished with. Babe Ruth was a fishing buddy. Another Yankee he considered a friend was Billy Martin who visited the restaurant whenever his team was playing in the Bronx.

Marie took over for her dad when he went on his fishing and hunting expeditions. “When I turned 21, my dad let me fill in for him as a bartender for the first time. Boy, was I proud.” Proud, and also a pioneer, as Marie was the first woman to bartend in all of Bergen County.

“One of my earliest childhood memories is my grandmother in the kitchen at Steve’s, my father behind the bar, my mom waitressing, and my grandfather running the whole show,” says Blaze, Marie son who today runs the restaurant. He remembers being around five years old and sleeping on a pillow on top of a beer box in a back closet. “I grew up here.”

Blaze treasures his legacy. He found a piece of the fuselage of the airplane his grandfather Steve was on that crashed in the back of his mother’s garage and had it hung from the ceiling of the dining room. It is part of an eclectic collection. He has added many of his grandfather’s angler awards and dozens of signed publicity shots of athletes and celebrities to the walls.

How did Steve’s specialty become the sizzling steak? It actually began as a sizzling hamburger, Marie remembers. “My mom had a customer who came in every day for lunch. One day he asked for a hamburger without the bun. She took two hamburgers and mashed them together. She placed it on a metal plate on a wooden platter and added our secret sauce to make it sizzle. She added French Fries and mushrooms and this became her specialty.” Mary’s Special is still a popular item on the menu today that offers many more choices than it did in the Thirties.

Steve’s is located at 620 Route 17 South, Carlstadt, New Jersey. The restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.