This is a love story. Yes, I am head over heels in love, in a deeper and more meaningful way than ever before. I finally met him, the butcher of my dreams. No, it’s not my first love. That would be TJ’s, a place I met and fell for as a high schooler in Cleveland. Since then I’ve had many more lovers but never an exclusive one. Now that I have met Vincent’s, however, we are going steady. I cannot imagine a better purveyor of meat.
I had a lot of great years slutting around with different meat markets when I lived in the East Village. Ottomanelli’s on Bleecker Street was good for prime aged beef. Faicco’s Pork Store up the block supplied my tenderloins, chops and brasciole. Dickson’s Farmstand in the Chelsea Market was good for specialty cuts and Heritage Meats in the Essex Market was hard to top. Baczinsky’s on Second Ave provided my kielbasa, smoked sausages and hams. And when I wanted to pay for a high class encounter with a piece of meat I’d spring for Lobel’s. I had affairs when I was on the road, being easily seduced by the old world charm and sophistication of Saluma’s in the North End of Boston or the domestic prosciutto at Parma’s in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The old man there would take you down to the basement for a glass of homemade wine before selling you his meat. All these places and more became distant memories when I met Pete over at Vincent’s.
Originally opened in the 1900’s as Oteri’s, it began as a fish store. After World War 2, with the nation prospering the store switched over to butchering meat. It thrived in the location it still sits in today, providing quality meats to generations of Italian-Americans in the Bronx. The store even had a brief flirtation with fame, serving as a filming location for the 1955 film “Marty” about a lovelorn butcher. This continued until Albino Oteri retired in the early 1980’s. So often these stories end with the shop closing and vanishing with the sands of time. To our good fortune the old man found a purchaser willing to continue the tradition in Peter De Luca. Pete took the shop over and named it Vincent’s, after his father who had taught him the trade at his shop on Morris Avenue.
I fully appreciate the artisanal movement and agree that it has helped food purveyors in general and butchers in particular step up their game. As they say, though, everything old is new again. Newer outfits like The Meat Hook aren’t doing anything that they haven’t always done at Vincent’s. Prime meats are individually selected through direct relationships with farmers. An emphasis is placed on freshness and quality. You’ll find hormone free, natural products prepared using traditional techniques. Meat Hook sells a lovely product and experience, but it’s ultimately the Disney version of what you get from Pete at twice the price. Keep your silly moustaches and Williamsburg address; I’ll take the old world charm.
Walk into Vincent’s and half a dozen skilled butchers mill about behind the counter trimming meat and serving customers. Another handful of apprentices breaks down larger cuts towards the rear of the room. A beautiful array of breeds and cuts fills the glass cases, everything from Top Loin to chicken feet. You can buy the highest grade or the gamiest offal, he has it all. Merely purchasing something on display is for pikers, though. Real enthusiasts have their meat hand cut and prepared to order and the fellows behind the counter are eager to do so. The transaction is not merely purchasing meat but rather engaging in an expert dialogue and working together to get you the perfect fit for you. I’ve found that the having discerning tastes and high standards pleases them; they rise to the challenge. Once they get to know you they proffer suggestions based on what you have favored in the past.
Let’s take a hamburger as a humble example. Buy ground beef in a supermarket and as much as 70% of it could be pink slime which has been washed in ammonia gas, extruded and re-shaped to resemble meat. Pete has fresh ground, 100% beef in the case, which is a vast improvement. Better yet do as I do and engage in a discussion of the qualities you seek in your burger. Find the balance between fat content, depth of flavor, tenderness and price. Once you have had the conversation your butcher will hand trim the cuts you have selected, weigh them, then grind and even shape them into patties for you. I did this with lamb yesterday and left with a 3 lb. box of fresh patties for 21 bucks. I know they will be delicious. I watched them be built from the ground up.
The same care goes to any other cut of meat you may want. A strip steak begins with a display of a few different beef loins. After choosing one your man will sharpen his knife and slice from the section of the loin you prefer to your desired thickness. The same goes for pork chops. I drooled as he shaved veal cutlets off the leg and pounded them out for me yesterday. Don’t even get me started on the sausages and cured meats. The lamb sausage in particular is to die for.
I love everything about this place. Walking in and hearing the guys exchange pleasantries with a family they have known for generations. Listening to the older women ordering in Italian and the men answering in flawless dialect. Above all, though, the meat. You’ll not find more consistent and quality product. This is a deep and abiding love affair and I have no interest in seeing anyone else. I’m hooked.
Vincent’s Meat Market
2374 Arthur Avenue