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Thursday, February 02, 2012

At the Door

Being a butcher has little allure, and today, like most jobs that involve physical labor, there is no appeal for the young, restless, and upwardly mobile. At one time, butcher shops dotted the city, but now, a shop like Pino's Prime Meat is rare and noteworthy, the subject of articles that bemoan their loss and extol the pluses of getting one's meats from a skilled, multi-generational specialist, like Pino Cinquemani of Pino's Meat Market.

Supermarkets, case-ready meats, the increasing costs of retailing in New York City, and the glamourlessness of the job have all conspired to make the old-fashioned butcher shop a rare commodity. To visit a place like Pino's is truly an opportunity to step in the past and experience old New York. The shop, located in an Italian area of the South Village, has been in existence since 1904, taken over by Pino in 1990. From an article in Food and Wine Magazine:

Pino has been carving up sheep, pigs and cattle since he was a teenager in the Sicilian town of Castrofilippo, and you might say that meat is in his blood. When I asked him about his family, this was his answer: "My grandfather was a butcher. My father was a butcher. My brothers are butchers. My brother-in-law. My sister-in-law. My nephew and my other nephew—butchers. My son is a butcher."

I had passed by this shop for decades, but, not being a meat eater, I had neither stepped in the door nor met the owner. I recently made a visit, photographing and filming my encounter and recording our conversation. Pino was quite cordial and accommodating. We discussed Italy, my travels there and love of small Italian hill villages, and his home in Sicily:

I am no judge of meat quality, cuts, or the skill of butchers, but everything I have read about Pino indicates that he is the ne plus ultra in his business. This is old school, where the skill of the trained artisan triumphs over the mass merchants. Here at Pino's, genuine, authentic European tradition lives on in a small shop in SoHo, encroached by a wave of high-end merchants that have essentially engulfed the entire area, if not the entire borough of Manhattan.

I have a number of close friends and acquaintances who are vegetarian, as I was for 30 years (I now eat fish). Decisions whether to eat meat or not are highly contentious, and I have stopped debating such subjects long ago. Here, at Pino's, to understand and appreciate the man and his family tradition, it is perhaps best to leave dietary preferences At the Door :)

Related Posts: Pork and Power, Mystery Meat, Shrine to Beef, Fisherman's Widow

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