A lthough the menu here boldly declares Est. 1927, not a scrap of Roaring Twenties authenticity graces the enormous dining room of this spin-off of the legendary Manhattan eatery. The room is a vast, predictably furnished space straight out of a chain restaurant instead of an esteemed steak house. A distracting glow from televisions mounted around the bar prevents any chance of serious dining. Considering all the athletes pictured on the menu, perhaps sports is the theme here. Why not go to a Houlihan's instead and save a few bucks? Few entrées here are priced under $20.
The furniture at Gallagher's suits the space: big. When the huge tables are pushed together to accommodate parties larger than four, your dining companions are annoyingly distant, especially with the raucous noise level. And big is the theme throughout the meal--in other words, expect enormous portions. Sure, everyone wants value, but there's a fine line between generous and absurd, and Gallagher's crosses it unabashedly. Practically everyone leaves here with a doggie bag, which must explain the restaurant's success.
Start off with one of the minimalist and classic Continental-style appetizers. Kudos to the jumbo shrimp cocktail that delivers what it promises: five big, beautiful shrimp with authentic cocktail sauce. Oysters Florentine are stuffed with a tasty garlic-and-spinach filling. But skip the baked clams with their flavorless stuffing.
Both the spinach salad and mixed green salad are generous and fresh. A sliced- tomato-and-Bermuda-onion salad, though, proves disappointing: Barely ripe slices of giant vine-ripened tomatoes are layered between inch-thick slices of ridiculously oversize Bermuda onions and served with oil and vinegar.
Entrées, half of them beef, the rest other meats and fish, appear under the heading Broiled Over Hickory Logs. The most satisfying beef cut is the sirloin steak, a beautifully marbled piece of aged meat that when cooked to proper temperature--medium-rare in my case--is very good. One night it's a perfect pink, but another time it's on the medium-well side. The filet mignon, though not as flavorful, is very tender. Both the roast prime rib of beef and the allegedly petite queen-cut prime rib are more than anyone could possibly eat in one sitting. Both are juicy and good, so save four bucks, swallow your manly pride, if applicable, and order the queen cut.
Other meats include double-rib lamb chops: two large ribs broiled crisply outside and pink inside. The double-cut pork chops, though, arrive so overcooked I must saw them with my knife. The menu offers several interesting potato side dishes, the most delicious being the creamy mashed potatoes. Vegetable sides include a generous portion of firmly cooked string beans and barely cooked giant asparagus.
When ordering from the commendably well-balanced but expensive wine list, don't bother pronouncing the name; you'll invariably be asked "What number?" Number 32, Ravenswood Zinfandel from California, is a weighty wine perfectly suited to the cuisine and reasonably priced at $25.
There isn't one good reason to order dessert here unless it's someone's birthday, in which case I'd recommend a piece of New York-style cheesecake. The gluttonously oversized slab easily could feed at least four people. -- A.G.
Route 1 South (Ridge Road), South Brunswick (609-452-2044). Lunch: Monday through Saturday, 11:30 am to 2 pm. Dinner: Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 pm; Sunday, noon to 10 pm. Wheelchair access easy. American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa. Dinner for two without wine averages $85.