Location: 238 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012
Albanese Meats and Poultry is affectionately known as Moe the Butcher because of the legendary character stationed behind the meat cases. Moe is 91 years young and one of the last remaining butchers on a block that is now almost completely filled with boutiques and trendy restaurants. Moe’s father, Vincenzo, opened his first shop across Elizabeth Street in the 1940’s. Both Moe and his mother, Mary, were born on this very block. His father emigrated from Sicily and when he opened the shop, Moe’s mother took the orders because she spoke English. She eventually became skilled enough at butchering that she taught Moe and his brother when his father died young. Moe currently commutes daily from his home in the Italian enclave of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, driving himself and parking in front of the shop. With just a trickle of daily customers, Moe spends most of his mornings going to his favorite meat purveyors to then hand-cut and supply the local restaurants with his top-quality meat. The afternoon is spent catching up on paperwork and tending to his loyal customers – the very old and the hipster young, as he now has a cult following in the neighborhood as a true relic of a time gone by.
Moe is known for the meticulous manner in which he artfully butchers and pounds out his veal medallions.
4 veal medallions – $5
Sweet pork sausage – 3 links for $3
When asked about other specialty items, Moe said he had anything I would want!
My trip to see Moe:
I first encountered the lore of Moe when I took the Nolita Food Tour through Foods of New York Tours. Our wonderful guide, Anny, spoke of her love and respect for Moe. We went to his original shop across the street, which has now been turned into an art gallery. The exterior remains as it was when it was an active meat market. The vibe is very cool – old and new worlds colliding.
We didn’t get a chance to meet Moe on this tour so I knew I had to come back and meet this legendary character. Warned by my boss that Moe can be a bit curmudgeonly, I was certainly nervous about my Saturday afternoon visit to his Nolita shop. I was also warned that it might look closed or about to shut down.
Upon walking in, Moe was sitting at a table in the front of the store, working on some paperwork. He barely looked up and after a few minutes, exasperatedly asked “Can I help you?” He probably assumed I was just interested in seeing what an old-school butcher looked like, sandwiched between boutiques and high-fashion houses. My curiosity was not enough to take him away from his paperwork. Did I even cook at all, he probably wondered. Once I told him that Anny, my tour guide, sent me, his demeanor changed 100%. “Ohhh Annie Oakley!” He lit up and was more than happy to help. I saw that he was opening up so I started to pry a bit. I asked him how long he had been here. Laughing, he said he’d never been asked that before. Maybe he thought that was my way of asking how old he was, not how long his shop had been there. Either way, we began a great conversation where he revealed the history of the store, as referenced above. He showed me a very large photo of his mother, hanging right above where he was doing his paperwork. She was a stunner.
Moe told me how there used to be 5 butchers on this very block, back in the heyday of Little Italy. Each would constantly have a line out the door. Today, I was his third customer, and it was 4 pm. But Moe doesn’t hold a grudge about the changing times. He good-naturedly said he understands – the young people work all day long to pay for their expensive apartments and no one has time to cook anymore. And with so many places to order in from or dine out at, it makes perfect sense to him. However, with changing times comes a need to adapt one’s business to survive. Moe has done just that by creating great relationships with restaurants in the neighborhood. He uses his expertise to pick out meat at his favored markets and uses his excellent butchering skills to provide wonderful cuts to his restaurant customers.
And the “I got’cha” signage on the door? Moe knows – once you try his meat, he’s got ya! You’ll be back for more. (Note the adorable grandchild photo next to the sign. This is Moe’s heart. Family and butchering).
Because I had heard about Moe’s wonderful veal, and I’ve never cooked veal at home, I knew I had to try it. Moe is a bit bent over at 91 years old. He doesn’t move quickly but he is sharp as a tack and his knife skills are still top-notch.
While he meticulously pounded out the veal between butcher paper, we continued our conversation, which inevitably turned to family. He gestured to some photographs that adorn much of the shop, and explained that family is everything, the only thing, really. He lives near his daughter in Bensonhurst and has been blessed with many grand and now great-grandchildren. They’re what keep him going, day after day, as he steals a glance at the beautiful children behind his head.
Moe doesn’t have any children in the business. It seems that Albanese Meats & Poultry exists for as long as Moe wants to keep going. I briefly considered asking him to adopt me so I could carry on the shop for him. Anything to keep Moe’s essence in the heart of Nolita. However, I have a feeling his essence will never leave. Someone like Moe lives on for as long as people are interested in the history of the neighborhood.
Armed with my veal medallions, some sweet pork sausage, and a burning desire to be adopted by Moe, I made my way home to cook. I unwrapped the beautiful, delicate, thinly-pounded veal. These would be excellent lightly breaded and fried for a veal Milanese. However, since I am following a healthy lifestyle plan called the Whole 30, I would not be breading these babies. This was perfectly fine, as the true flavor of the veal could come through. I lightly coated my sauté pan with olive oil, seasoned the veal with my trusty seasonello from Faicco’s pork store (sea salt with rosemary, garlic, sage and pepper – a one stop spice rack) and placed the veal in the pan.
Since these medallions are so thin, they only took a minute or so on each side.
The sweet pork sausage went in the pan next. Cooked up plump and delicious. The veal was wonderful. Light, succulent and tasted like the TLC that was present when Moe was preparing it for me. The pork sausage was delightful as well.
As I was leaving, Moe asked me to come back and report on the veal. And then he chuckled and remembered – he didn’t have to ask. “You’ll be back once you’ve tasted that veal.” He knows the strength of his business. After an entire lifetime in top-notch butchering, he doesn’t need to seek us out. We’ll come to you, Moe. Always, and forever.
Hungry for more? Our Nolita Food Tour spends time on Elizabeth Street where Albanese Meats and Poultry is located. Our fabulous tour guide will tell you a bit about Moe and you may even be able to steal a second inside to say hi to the legend himself. And then you’ll be back . . . for the veal.
Visit Moe at 238 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012