A friend of mine is the makeup artist for a very famous female pop star. She moved to NYC about six months ago, coincidentally finding an apartment in a building around the corner from my old pad. After moving all her possessions in and living there for a month construction started on an adjacent vacant lot. Shitty engineering caused the foundation of my friends building to crack. FDNY showed up and said she had ten minutes to carry out whatever she could. She grabbed the essentials and ran out.
Department of buildings examined the building and determined it unsafe for occupancy. A temporary vacate order was enforced and no one was allowed back in. Mind you, my friend was still responsible for the rent and was offered a bed in a shelter as a “comparable” accommodation. Months went by and the other day she was called by the Department of Buildings. The building has been condemned and she was given a brief window in which to retrieve everything she owned, escorted by the FDNY. Entering the apartment she discovered that everything had either been stolen or trashed and a homeless guy was sleeping in her bed.
Had our first date since having our daughter last night and had a spectacular time. Ate at Clark’s, which is in the base of the Empire Hotel. In 1986 it was a fleabag hotel and I spent a few months sneaking in and crashing in a room on the top floor without paying. Now it’s an upscale joint and I’m doing a bit better myself. Nice symmetry.
We then went to Lincoln Center, where the New York Philharmonic was playing the score of 2001: A Space Odyssey live as the film played on a screen overhead. It was glorious. Truly, if one had all the money in the world this is how you would watch this film. A 70MM print (minor squabble: would love to have seen a restored print but still) with one of the nation’s top orchestras accompanying it live in an acoustically perfect room. Adding a brilliant touch, a 40 person chorus appeared in the first tier boxes and sang the discordant tones of the Kyrie from Liget’s requiem to represent the sound of the monolith whenever it appeared on screen. Sublime. Truly as good of a moviegoing experience as it is possible to have.
The final kicker was that we were in absolutely great seats for this. Orchestra, ninth row, center aisle. Just far enough back from the screen for perfect sound and vision. The proof that they were literally the best seats in the house is that I sat next to Alec Baldwin, who has first choice of seat location as cultural advisor to the orchestra. That poor schlub Sting and his wife sat a good twenty rows behind us. All in all a glorious evening. As much as I bitch about New York City sometimes evenings like last night make up for all the rest.
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
Sorry for the long read but it’s well worth the time:
When Michael Bloomberg finally leaves office, we may rely on pervasive testimonials concerning the manner in which he has made the city cleaner, safer, more attractive to business and a hive of new development; and many of these assessments will even have the virtue of being true. What is less likely to be discussed is the cost of all this supposed civic improvement to the soul of the city.
The influx of wealth and the super-wealthy from around the world has meant the exodus of those creative New Yorkers who gave the city its own unique romance — and heart. This is part of the “he cleaned up crime” aspect of Bloomberg’s legacy: For it was the city’s seedy, crime-ridden neighborhoods that could offer cheap housing not only to the middle and lower classes of workers and business owners, but to artists, writers and musicians.
Within the lifetime of many of us, SoHo was a trucking district one ventured into at night at peril to one’s safety, but it was also sheltering many of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. Greenwich Village and the Hudson waterfront were still rife with very dangerous street gangs, but writers unequaled in the years since were also occupying ancient apartments in the neighborhood. In the 1960s and ’70s, Hell’s Kitchen was still living up to its name, but that allowed dramatists to create the Off and Off Off Broadway theater worlds. And in the ’70s and ’80s, the infamous Lower East Side produced what was arguably the last stand of New York music, the punk and new wave movements.
But why, if this regrettable, soul-sucking transformation of the city was conducted, for the most part, in the open, did New Yorkers not protest more vigorously? A comparative few did, but those comparative few were as nothing against the tide of new citizens with far more self-centered concerns, the first of which was safety. And here Mr. Bloomberg demonstrated a no-prisoners stance that was much to the liking of a city traumatized by the 9/11 attacks. That his policies opened his administration to justifiable accusations of racial profiling has never seemed to bother him.
In the end, cleanliness stands as the only goal that seems to have escaped the mayor. According to Travel and Leisure in 2012, New York ranked as the “Dirtiest American City,” due to its overflowing street trash. Perhaps some bit of the old city has survived, and will be revitalized under a new chief executive. We can but hope. But money, once it eats up a place, very rarely spits it out again.