I was among those gutted when Jeffrey Ruhalter closed his iconic Essex Street Market butcher shop. The market lost one of its colorful characters that day, not to mention the most direct link with its history, aside from the building itself. The market was left with a gaping big space (not to mention some big empty shoes) to fill. Big enough that it took two businesses to do it: Brooklyn Taco and Heritage Foods. Both are now open, and both should be on your list of places to visit soon.
A taste of Sunset Park comes to the Lower East Side! That’s right, we just got a real taco stand in the Essex Street Market. Jesse Kramer tends earthenware pots simmering with various spiced meats, and assembles tacos behind a plexiglass window. Prices are reasonable. Tacos are traditional with a little modern, local spin here and there. They’re proudly pouring Blue Bottle Coffee, too. The little counter may only have room to seat three, but there is more seating in the north end of the market.
These tacos come wrapped in two full-size tortillas. Their brisket taco made Time Out NY’s list of Top 26 Tacos in NYC. I’ve tried it – it’s worthy – meaty, just spicy enough and sized so one makes for a light meal, two a filling one. I had one of their local chorizo and potato tacos a few weeks ago at the Hester Street Fair, and liked it even more – heavier and a little greasy, but spicy and satisfying.
Saturday I tried a chipotle chicken taco ($3.75), which was both substantial and flavorful enough to hang with their other offerings. Their plan is to change up the menu a little every week, so check in to see what they’re serving. If you sign up for their mailing list you get the weekly schedule and special offers sent to your email.
Brooklyn Taco is still in the soft opening stage – they’re streamlining process, deciding how large a menu they’re going to offer at the Essex Street Market location. If you’re still paying outrageous prices for mini-tacos in the neighborhood come to Brooklyn Taco and get set straight.
Heritage Foods was also having a soft opening this weekend in anticipation of today’s planned opening, contingent upon the timely delivery of meat (including three whole goats) from their partner farmers. This may be their first brick and mortar location, but these guys are already rockstars in the restaurant purveyor world.
Patrick Martins is the man behind this operation. His philosophy, put into practice, results in top quality products and a successful, ethical business. Idealists could rightly call it a triumph. Cynics would have a tough time arguing with the results.
Heritage puts high value on the following: genetic diversity (heritage breeds), small family farms, artisanal processing, nose to tail eating and traceability. Traceability means Patrick (or Dan Honig, his right-hand man in the store) can tell you the salami from Salumeria Rosi is made from Red Waddle pigs raised in Missouri by farmer Larry Sorrell. The partners are listed on the labels, along with the breeds of the pigs. One partner is salami maker Armandino Batali (Mario’s dad).
Patrick estimates they deal with 80 family farms, about 40 of which rely on them as primary partners. That works out to be about 200 pigs a week for the wholesale and restaurant trade. Whatever isn’t snapped up by chefs that week will end up at the store, some of it priced at $3.99/lb.
One goal is to never have to freeze the meat. Another goal is to prove that heritage breed, free-range, hormone-free meat is not exclusively for the elite. Patrick is adamant about having weekly deals that allow a family to put together a meal using his meat for the same price as a fast food supper.
This idealism makes the Essex Street Market an excellent place for Patrick, Mr. Slow Food USA, to set up shop. When families first began to rely on the market for their groceries ALL of the meat here was heritage breed, free-range and hormone-free.
The deals are subsidized by the purveyor side of the business. Dan put it like this: “As long as I sell my loins right I can get my hams cheap.” The stunning Benton Country Smoked Ham might not be cheap at $22/lb, but the Paradise Locker cured ham ($8/lb) is the best I’ve ever seen at that price. It’s a deal.
They will be making sandwiches and a $5 prosciutto plate – a sampling of the state of the art of domestic prosciutto production. If Saturday was any indication they will likely be offering free tastes of the salamis and such. In addition to cured meats and sausages, fresh meats from the same partner farmers will be available, including pork, goat, poultry and rabbit.
The butcher will be none other than Dionisio Silva, formerly of Jeffrey’s. It was great to see him back behind that counter, showing the newbie retailers how to work a credit card machine! If that isn’t enough to leave you feeling warmly disposed toward Heritage Foods there’s always the love story angle:
Patrick Martins is engaged to another rockstar in the American food scene who happens to have a stall in the Essex Street Market – Anne Saxelby! These two are fighting the good fight. Here’s to their health and happiness!
JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well, consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.