Sunday, April 11, 2010

Essex Street Market

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Today, we visited the Essex Street Market located at Essex and Delancey streets, NY, NY. I first got the idea to visit the market through an email notice from TastingTable. TastingTable is a industry related promotional site covering a few select locations around the country, like DC, SanFran, NY, Chicago, etc etc. It contains local information on restaurants, openings, new local markets, suppliers and occasionally pieces done by chef's themselves with recipes. (I like the recipes and supplier ideas.)

The Essex Street Market began in 1940 as an effort by then Mayor LaGuardia, to clean up the streets and help cure the rising street congestion/traffic due to vehicles. Pushcarts and street vendors abounded and the Mayor felt providing them a local 'home,' off the streets, would not only help traffic, it would also legitimize these small vendors as well. It mostly sells flowers, produce, niche offerings like chocolates, cakes, pastries, coffee kiosks, Fromaggeries, etc. There's even a small vintage clothing shop, barber and TV repairman as well. Its not a Reading Terminal Market (Philly) by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a nice 300' x 100' indoor concessionary worthy of inclusion into any trip to lower Manhattan.

Flavour - When we visit new places, towns, or locations around the country, we strive to find the flavour of the area. People, places, stories, that make up its fabric. This market, with such a rich and established history, nicely filled that goal. It's a rather non-descript brick building. Its entrances blend in to the streetscape, almost....almost..uninviting. You open the double doors and are immediately immersed in its culture, history and the surrounding community. Like the exterior, its interior is utilitarian, not that its a bad thing. Just a plain Jane market. Your nose also immediately makes the connection that this is a place of many vendors, purveyors and distinct offerings. Aroma's abound.

The shops and vendors began with Shopsin's small cafe, three  2 chair tables (with a 20 person waiting line. That must say something about how good it is.) Immediately against Shopsins wall you find the Saxelby Cheesemonger booth ('shop' would too big, 'closet' not big enough.) Then you’re confronted with the smell of fresh brewing coffee at Porto Rico Importing with flavours like Aggie's, Bedford, Budapest, etc. As we walked by we quickly came to La Tiendita, a girl-focused market. A ‘girl’ oriented company, its an organic farm stand providing home-grown produce and, even better, home-made pies. Yesterday's offerings were Apple crisp pie, blueberry pie and cherry pie.

From there we walked up to chocolatiere, Roni-Sue's. 4-10-10 026

Rhonda Kave is the owner of Roni-Sue’s and is a friend and acquaintance. We first met her during a Violence Against Women/Abused Women Gala fundraiser in Nassau. Her son and daughter (both in their 20's) lend Mom a hand in the business of making chocolates. As she describes it, she started when her kids were 2 or 3 years old. She’d felt trapped, at the time, in the Long Island house and needed to get out. So, with her good friend in tow, they took a continuing Ed class on chocolate making. That winter they decided to make chocolate treats as Christmas gifts. The next year her friends were calling, asking for 'small'  batches for them to give out as well. This continued, year after year, with each call bringing a heftier need. They also availed themselves to additional continuing Ed classes. Finally, after 25 years and  coming to terms with what she was doing from her kitchen, plus having the idea of starting a business floating by in her head many times over, she started Roni-Sue's. Initially she started as having just a 'booth' in Essex. With no space to cook on-site, they rented out kitchen space, once a week, in Queens. Finally, last year, they upgraded to larger space in the market. This allows them to manufacturer and sell from one place. The 'store' is not more than six feet deep, a double door convection oven, a commercial hot plate, a chocolate melter/temperer, a couple of glass refrigerated merchandisers, small sink and prepping surface. What they produce is off-the-charts goodness.

4-10-10 025 From Pig Candy (bacon), Chile Collection, Cocktail (some made with Absinthe), Buttercrunch, etc etc. Its spectacularly wonderful.

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I was then almost accosted by a deli counterman's bark "We sell the best fucking meat in NY." (I'm not kidding.) This immediately caught my attention. We'd stumbled onto Jeffery's Meats. We had a brief exchange of smiles and I offered an inquisitive look. He took the opportunity to start asking questions and provided a rapid fire synopsis of what he does. He then threw a printed magnet at me. That magnet said it all "Who Fucked Up The Order."

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Jeffery's Meats is a place within a place wrapped in something else. Its an education. Its an experience. Its Jeffery. Its a school. Its community. He owns and runs this 4th generation family butcher Shoppe. He prides his business on making the most out of each and EVERY cut of meat. Nothing goes to waste. If you want a filet mignon, he's got it, but he asks why. He'll then down-sell you. What? Yes, down-sell you. "Why pay 8.99/lb for filet, when you can have this, just as flavorful, 6th cut for 3.99/lb." (What in god's name am I hearing? Is this guy just plain nuts? He's down-selling me? wtf!!) He goes on, he's got meat from all over the world. Tiger, Boar, Ostrich - we get into an entire discussion on using Ostrich (I love Ostrich). Smoked, salted, cured. Fresh. Stew meats. He's a cooks delight. If there's anything about meat or cooking you want to know, Jeffery has it instantly. "What you wanna cook?" he asks.  The offerings he then provides are endless. "I need ground chuk" I say. He says, ‘what you makin with it?’  He sees my face screw up a touch and he says, "I have 3 grades of ground chuk. You want with some trimmings added to have some body to it. Or additional fat to infuse extra flavor...?" It goes on from there. He's dropping the f-bombs so often my ears begin to bleed. But, he's doing it with passion. After a briefly intense exchange between us he pigeon-holes me as a chef, just trying to walk around on the DL. He launches into his gastronomic offerings. Fois Gras, hand-made sausage combinations, duck, livers, pate's, spines, on and on.

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After having our initial fill of Jeffery, we walk away, stunned. We then happen upon the Tra La La Juice Bar. 

Tra La LaTheir muffins are out of this world. Mary grabs a muffin for breakfast and we walk on to the back isle of the market.

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We then happen into Pain D'Avignon bread market.

Pain Pecan Raisin rolls, Sourdough breads, French loafs, Onion rolls, Brioche, etc, etc. Warm and friendly, scrumptious flavors (and the Brioche is baked in wood baskets.)

Our heads overflowing with smells and flavors I catch a glimpse of Formaggio Essex.

4-10-10 015  Through the window I see cheeses lined up on a counter. In the glass picture window I see a sign describing a sinfully good Spanish Vinegar.

4-10-10 018  We walk in and I buy a 3/4L bottle of the Vinegar and a mound of unpasteurized goat cheese to have with my Brioche on the way home in the car.

Then it was back to Jeffery.

4-10-10 033 He's now at an ante-stand. Open to the browsing public, he stands at a butchers station, low, inviting. He's there speaking to a group of 8-10. He's telling a tale. He's describing the business to the gathered. I get a sense that its a class on butchery. (Weekly, he does a class on butchery of various animals. Visit his site for further details. I plan on attending.) We stand in back listening for 10 minutes or so. He describes his history of growing up in the market. The people he serves. I get the sense he's a fanatic about sustainability. He describes his connection to the people. His dedication to keeping people fed. Nutrition. Giving to the community. Becoming part of a larger family. He is awe-inspiring and full bore, full on, in your face, meat purveyor. He's a little abrasive, but deep down he appear to be wonderful and set in what he knows best, cutting meet and making sure everyone is fed, using the entire animal. Nothing is wasted.

Jeffery has a host of video's on YouTube. If you want to hear some of his story, or learn about butchery, meat cuts, etc, go on over and take a gander. Search for him and you’ll find a host of video’s, each more enriching and in-depth.

This day was a wonderful experience. A couple hours spent getting to know a new place, being immersed in culture, getting to know new people, and reconnecting with others. If you're in NY and want a great experience, pop into the market around 11AM. Its wonderful and you'll enrich yourself and fill your belly in the process.

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