My favorite butcher in the world (well, if not the world, then on the lower east side of NYC) is Jeffrey Ruhalter, of Jeffrey's Meat Market in the Essex Street Market. For instance, check out this whole flat-cut brisket from Jeffrey, and the fat cap it drove in with...
Jeffrey's Meat Market has been in the Essex Street Market since the day the ESM opened, in 1939 or 1940. Opened as a way to get the street merchants of the lower east side off the streets and under one roof, the ESM has had some major ups and downs over the years. I wasn't here from the mid-70s till the mid-90s, and even when I came back, I didn't move downtown until 2003, so I can't speak from having shopped there during their long, lean years. I do recall a trip I took "back east" from California in the early 80s and heading down to Katz's, Ratner's and the ESM to check them out. Someday I may even find the pix I took back then, digitize them, and put them up on TT...but not now.
Right now, I have to think the ESM is on a big high. From chocolatiers to cheese mongers, to a couple of very nice, value oriented produce stands, I shop there a couple of times a week. Air conditioning is a newish feature, and they're actually tiling the floors...they were cement before. Jeffrey the butcher has been there through it all...well, if not Jeffrey himself, then one of his ancestors, as he's the 4th generation of butchering Ruhalter's, who started out way back in 1920 on Orchard Street.
What's really cool is that over the last 10 years ago or so, or for easily as long as Significant Eater and I have lived downtown, Jeffrey has become more and more of a celeb. Lots of reasons for that, but in my opinion, all these sexy new wave butchers getting a lot of press have Jeffrey to thank - if not directly, than at least for not letting butchery fall into the abyss.
Anyone I've ever brought to or sent to Jeffrey's has had positive experiences. Well, some actually get a little scared by him, as happened to our friend Judith, when Jeffrey told her to come behind the counter and cut her own meat...he does that, though I refuse to pick up a knife in his shop. Usually, first time customers get a freebie - be it a wheel of cheese (from his deli pickins') to whatever meat they're buying that day. He's given Significant Eater a $30, 10-week age prime rib steak (which he made sure to tell me was hers!) and another friend who has made the journey downtown with me got a whole, prime graded eye of chuck roast. Really, every neighborhood should have a Jeffrey's, and perhaps they once did.
What made me very happy today, however, was this article in the NY Times. Entitled Cuts of Meat, With a Side of Culture. It's all about Jeffrey, and his wonderful way with meat...and words.
“Do you know what a butcher really is?” he asked, steepling his hands as if in prayer. “A butcher is a member of your family who makes sure that what goes into your children’s stomachs is fresh, healthy and precisely what they need to survive.”
Check it out. And if you're in the neighborhood, check out Jeffrey's. On Essex and Delancey. Right outside the F train. You might walk away with a free hunk of cheese or perhaps a really nice steak. Maybe a beautiful piece of brisket like that one up top. And you'll always walk away with a smile on your face.
By the way, here's another shot of that brisket, after spending a day with me...