O happy day… on Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx. Where a gentleman at a piano entertained us with Danny Boy, asking only a dollar (we gave him two).
And where an Italian Mickey outside a grocery store had a few hours of peace and quiet, since all the children were still in school.
Everyone is a connoisseur on Arthur Avenue. In the butcher shop, where they also stock some cheese, the main man walked around to the display with me to explain that the Pecorino the store had was made from sheep’s milk, yes, but the peppercorns with which it was studded made it unacceptable for use in a salad of fava beans. In other words, he dissuaded me from buying something at his store.
I didn’t ask him about the heads in the window.
Whether they belonged to sheep or goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left, will the Son of the Lord — at least so it says in Matthew. But here, it didn’t matter. We were there for a pig. Gil explained exactly how he planned to roast it.
And the butcher acceded to our request to buy it.
Hey, you like bacon, don’t you? Say hello.
Down the street, at Teitel Bros., in business since 1915, where the butcher recommended we go for cheese, we found a Star of David in mosaic at the entrance. Austrian, Yiddish-speaking immigrants Jacob and Morris Teitel opened the place, which is now an institution.
The latest generation of Teitels wanted every detail about the pig roast. On the Weber grill? No kidding. Just turn it over, said Gil. Hmn, you don’t say. He took out the Pecorina Toscano. No problem. He knew everything about everything already.
In the nearby arcade, many of the businesses have been around forever, and they too know exactly what they’re doing. Fantastic, Old-World vegetable vendors.
Everything larger than life. The Romano cheese. The picture can’t do justice to its girth.
Extra, extra long pasta. Really, only Gargantua could wind these around a fork.
Especially the bulbous fennel.
All the guys, the uniformed guys, the ones with badges, pick up their food there. They’ve got our backs. But here I’ve got at least one of theirs.
At Mike’s Deli, which sounds like the ordinary place on the corner but is anything but, we got a sandwich of aged provolone, soppressatta, sweet and hot peppers. A little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. An angel made it for us. An angel connoisseur. Sicilian olive oil, the best for salads, he said, with certainty.
We took our paper plate to a wooden table nearby where we had a good view of people buying lamb shanks and two-inch thick steaks.
Good, I said, my mouth full.
I don’t think that quite describes it, said Gil. Thirty seconds and the sandwich was gone.
Time to go roast a pig.
3 responses to “Bringing Home the Bacon”
The pig was good and the brisket he smoked for 18 hours was great. Wish you could have been here. A lot of yummy things cooked and consumed.
Maybe you should have been a lady butcher. A rich and famous, eccentric lady butcher. I can sorta imagine it.
I am so envious! Sounds like you had a great day. I’m sure you are busy prepping for the Piglet Roasting Extravaganza today! I so wish I was there to join in the festivities!
You know, it’s not easy to find a real butcher shop in the Bay Area these days. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an Italian in North Beach. Meat sellers (for that is what they are,) get their goods delivered pre-cut, so you can’t find the variety of cuts that you might like. What’s more, if you tell the guy at the meat counter that you want to have your veal scallopine cut from the leg, and pounded down to 1/8 of an inch, they look at you like you’ve requested that they !
When I was at New York Restaurant school, I had a wonderful butcher instructor who had a great reputation in New York. He was the late, great, Jack Ubaldi–Jack opened the Florence Meat shop in Greenwich Village in 1935 (I believe it is still there, though Jack ! For some reason, Jack took a shine to me. He would tell me, “Leeeza, Leeza, you must-a open your own-a Butcher Shop. Think-a of the novelty! A woman butcher in New York. Everyone would-a want-a to come-a to your place.” I guess he thought I had a way with meat…Which I did, and still do. Probably because I am a true meat lover. Jack invented a now legendary steak that he named the Newport steak. And, to this day, I think he was probably right about the possibilities of success for a woman with her own butcher shop in New York in the Eighties!
This is a link to a photo of a Newport Steak, cut from the tri-tip.
And here’s an article about Jack and the Florence Meat Market I found at Comestibles, a blog by Kathryn McGowan:
Tucked away on a small street in New York City’s Greenwich Village there is a butcher shop called Florence Meat Market which opened in 1936 and doesn’t seem to have changed much since. There is sawdust scattered on the floor and all the meat is cut to order on big cubes of butcher block. These expert butchers know every cut and preparation, including some you’ve never heard of.
Florence Meat Market was opened by Jack Ubaldi, an Italian immigrant who learned the art of butchery at his father’s knee. He owned the shop until about 1975 when he sold it to Tony Pellegrino, a man he had trained himself. In 1995 Mr. Pellegrino passed it on to another Florence-trained expert, Benny Pizzuco, who still owns it today. It is this apprenticeship system that has allowed Florence to maintain such a high quality. According to Mr. Pizzuco they don’t hire butchers at the shop, everyone starts out wielding a broom and works their way up.
Obviously, Mr. Ubaldi knew his animals and how to break them down into any number of component parts. In fact, he knew them so well that he went so far as to invent a new cut of steak. In the 1940s Greenwich Village was a magnet for artists of all kinds. Then as now, they didn’t always have a lot of money left to buy food after paying the rent. Mr. Ubaldi hit upon a small, flavorful steak cut from the bottom butt of the cow. The bottom butt is an inexpensive cut and so these steaks could be sold relatively cheaply. They are shaped a bit like the crescent moon, but with the two tips folded towards each other. It is nicely marbled and comes with a lovely layer of fat around the outside.
In addition to being a good butcher, Mr. Ubaldi was a smart businessman. He knew that for this new steak to sell it had to have a good name. One day, while watching an ad for Newport cigarettes he realized that the steak (especially before it is folded together) looked a lot like the Newport logo. Thus was born the Newport Steak.
So, that’s my MEAT story of the day. Hope you are having beautiful weather and may your piglet be juicy and cooked to perfection, as I know it will be, by Gil the Griller!
Ever attend a pig roast in Hawaii or any of the Hawaiian islands? Now, that, right there, that’s some good stuff. Hope your pig roast goes well!