Wednesday, December 5, 2007
In case you have not yet discovered Esposito’s, one of the city's best meat markets, hustle over to Ninth Avenue and 38th street right away.
Best shop? Says who? Chef Emeril Lagasse, owner of Emeril's and Nola's restaurants in New Orleans, is a huge fan. Lagasse referred to Esposito's as “The pork store” on his show Emeril Live, on the Food Network and said "I shop there all the time."
Located at its current site for over 70 years Esposito's first opened on Mulberry Street in Little Italy in the late 1890's. Today the keeper of Esposito’s tradition is Robert Esposito who took over from his father, Leonard, in 1992. While earning a B.S. from Embry-Riddle University, Esposito, 40, had his career plans set in stone or rather in one of the store's choice cuts of file mignon. He wanted to run the family business.
Born on West 34th Street, Esposito packed groceries, swept, and made deliveries at 11 years old. He remembers the avenue filled with clothing, house wares, and ethnic food stores. “All the merchants knew I was Esposito's kid. Back then the avenue was a special place, much more family oriented," he said.
In the nineteen sixties Clinton began to decline. Shops closed and residents moved away forced out by drugs, prostitution, and crime. The avenue reached rock bottom about fourteen years ago. Scores of drug dealers and users took over two tenements across the avenue from the store. They operated a major drug operation for months. "One day two city buses pulled up in front and the police carted about eighty people away in handcuffs," Esposito said shaking his head.
When asked how Esposito’s survived those dark days he said," We struggled. We stuck to the basics with fresh products, exceptional quality, and friendly service. I learned a lot from my grandfather, Giovanni. He had tremendous pride in his work," Esposito said. "Even is in his nineties he always stopped by to make sure things were running right.”
This philosophy has worked. Esposito's Meat Market has a strong wholesale and retail base. People who grew up feasting on Esposito's meats still return even though they live in the suburbs. "We’re getting new customers as things improve," he said. "Today people buy more often but less quantity. They buy fresh and cook the same day."
Originally a pork store Esposito’s became a full service butcher in the seventies. Sausages, made from lean cuts of premium meats, are made in their factory adjacent to the store. A thirty-six foot long display counter is packed with breakfast sausages made of sage (served at The Four Seasons restaurant), organic chicken, and hot or sweet sausage with mozzarella cheese and broccoli rabe, steaks, lamb, chicken cutlets, cold cuts, and cheeses.
The provolone cheese and parsley sausage is Esposito's signature brand. They also sell prosciutto di Parma, Louisiana style Cajun Andouille, garlic mashed sausages, salamis and cacciatorini. Esposito carries superb cuts of beef, veal, venison, quail, organic ducklings from Long Island, Buffalo burgers and hams from Gwaltney in Virginia. He has antibiotic and hormone free chickens, cold cuts, eggs, cheeses and bread. At Thanksgiving they sell 30,000 pounds of turkey.
Esposito’s business clients include restaurants, the Food Network, Martha Stewart Living Magazine and local firehouses. Robert has appeared on the Food Network's Iron Chef and the shop was featured on food writer Molly O'Neill's, PBS special about great New York City markets.
Esposito's offers more than just a great piece of meat. You get a glimpse of old New York as well.
Giovanni Esposito & Sons Meat Shop; 500 Ninth Avenue @38th Street. Hours 8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. Mon-Sat. (212) 279-3298.
Photo by Straycat