The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker
By Anna Chlumsky
I have a new family, and I owe it all to the lack of a nearby supermarket. I recently moved away from my home in Chicago, and in my first week in Brooklyn I found myself nervous, lonesome, and restless. I took a walk. My favorite part about the neighborhood is that the gigantic, one-stop grocery-shopping haven familiar to so many towns in our beloved country is missing! As I realized that local butchers, bakers and candlestick makers would nourish my new life, a beam of light from the heavens shone down with its signature Hallelujah hum. I was less lonely.
Now George at the pork store is my uncle who sets aside chicken backs for my soup, Jen is my sister-in-law who always lets me in on a cheese she finds irresistible, and Louis is my overbearing older brother who makes sure my freezer is stuffed full of fresh ravioli.
Chicago has its share of butchers and bakers, and theyÁre absolutely of the best quality. At times, though, laziness gets the better of you, and itÁs just plain simpler to opt for the local Jewel or Safeway where your meat comes on a Styrofoam tray. In this city, though, the lazy option is not there. It is just as inconvenient to take a subway three stops uptown to shop at a supermarket as it is to visit the produce shop, pork store, and fishmonger just blocks from your apartment. Plus, the products are fresher, your food-experts are more trustworthy, and you are treated much better. And trust me, it is much more fulfilling than wheeling a lonely grocery cart down the cereal aisle.
Every weekend I make my rounds, as I imagine my grandmother must have in the Olden Days. I stop at my pork store to ask my guy (the possessive-name is another perk) for my weekly supply of hot soppresata and whatever else tickles my fancy. I follow up with the cheese shop, the wine shop, the bodega, the ethnic stores, and the produce shop. I may make a special stop at the butcherÁs or the fishmongerÁs (I love the word monger) if IÁve got a specific hankering or a recipe IÁd like to try. Relying on the sales and specials develops a dependence on nature for deciding your menu at home.
I know, I know. It all sounds very time-consuming and confusing. How do I know what cut of meat to ask for? What is the right season for shellfish? Believe me, you begin by simply asking, and learn as you go. My cousin was making shish kebobs, and she asked our butcher what cut would be best. He suggested leg of lamb, and went back to cube it all for her. That personal service is what makes old-fashioned grocery shopping such bliss.
When you arrive at home with your newly acquired treasures and unwrap the parchment paper, each bite tastes that much more succulent. The work you put into preparing your meals is another connection to the people who provided it. Without supermarkets, your time is better spent, your food is better eaten, and your new family is better loved.
Esposito Pork Store 357 Court Street 718-875-6863
Tuller 199 Court Street 718-222-9933
SahadiÁs 187 Atlantic Avenue 718-624-4550
Fish Tales 191 Court Street 718-246-1346
Los Paisanos Meat Market & Deli 162 Smith 718-855-2641
Anna Chlumsky grew up in the kitchen of her father, Chef Frank Chlumsky. As an adolescent she appeared in several films such as My Girl and currently works for the Zagat Survey restaurant guidebooks.
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