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Credit: Christine Han
The Way We Eat

Meet Moe, the 95-Year-Old Butcher in Little Italy, and His Granddaughter-Apprentice Jen

published Mar 8, 2020
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NameMoe Albanese and his granddaughter Jen Prezioso
Location: New York, NY
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 4. It’s usually me (Jen), Moe, my mom, and my stepdad. We live together so my mom and I can both take care of Moe.
Avoidances: None. Although it’s nice to try diets, they’re hard to stick to. We love pasta too much. 

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Frank Sinatra is blaring from a record player in the window of a butcher shop on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. Frank isn’t the only Ol’ Blue Eyes in the room. Accompanying him on vocals is Moe Albanese, the 95-year-old butcher whose family has owned Albanese Meats and Poultry since 1923. (He’ll be 96 next month.) The beloved shop is a neighborhood fixture bursting with old-time charm, so it should come as no surprise that the iconic red storefront was scouted for filming both The Godfather III and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s one of the only family-owned butcher shops left in a neighborhood that was once chock-full of them.

Come on, come on, come on! Come dance with me!,Moe claps and sings from in his chair in the corner of the shop where he waves to potential customers and passersby between the store’s hours of noon and 6 p.m. People who stop in to shop can sit in what Moe calls “the Hot Seat,” between him and his record collection. Behind the counter is his granddaughter Jen, who sources the shop’s meat from Chelsea’s meatpacking district, wields a cleaver with ease, and tends to customers the same way Moe used to his whole life.

Jen and Moe make Elizabeth Street feel like home. Since Jen joined forces with her grandfather a few years ago, she’s revamped the store’s interior, collaborating with a local artist to design felt sausages that hang from the windows, and created a new logo for the paper bags that customers carry their meat away in. We caught up with the dynamic duo during butcher shop hours to drink cappuccinos, dance to Frank Sinatra, and talk about meat.

Credit: Christine Han

Do you live nearby?
Moe
: Brooklyn.
Jen: We live in Bensonhurst. That’s where I grew up, and that’s where Moe has lived for 70 years. We were just talking about it. I said, ‘Grandpa, you’ve been commuting for all these years! That’s a long time!’

Since the shop opens at noon, what is your morning routine?
Moe: When I wake up, I go back to sleep!
Jen: [Laughs.] We do do that a couple of times… And then my mom will wake Moe up before he goes to work. I have to double check to make sure he’s up because he has a long morning routine. If he doesn’t start on time…
Moe: I sneak my way back into bed…
Jen: Then he’ll usually have Greek yogurt. Or today we had French toast. With the syrup on top. Or he loves crumb cake. He’s at an age where it’s like whatever makes him happy.

Credit: Christine Han

Do you have any snacks during the day to pass the time?
Moe
: What time of day? Now? We have coffee… and cookies… Get them coffee, Jen!

So he has a sweet tooth?
Jen: Moe has a sweet tooth.
Moe: Pignoli cookies. With the nuts.
Jen: Ricotta cheesecake, from his favorite restaurant Il Coloseo in Brooklyn.

Credit: Christine Han

Can you tell me the story behind your “I gotcha steaks?” It’s kind of your catchphrase, right?
Jen: [To Moe] You said you were watching a commercial or a cartoon or something like that, and the person said “I gotcha!” Something like that. And it was a lightbulb moment. His whole thing is that once you try the steak, he’s gotcha as a customer.
Moe: What do you want me to tell you about it?! It’s the best steak in the house. You’re lookin’ at it right there. That’s the one. Once they taste that steak, that’s the good stuff — Let’s see what this gentleman wants.

[Jen helps a customer purchase two ribeyes.]

You taught her everything she knows, huh?
Moe: She’s pretty good right?
Jen: What did they make you do here when you first started working here?
Moe: Scrape the [butcher] block. My mother and father would say, ‘Where you going?! Clean the pieces!’

Credit: Christine Han

So Moe, is Jen a good cook?
Moe: I wouldn’t brag about her cooking…
Jen: Hey!

Oh boy… What are some dinners you like to eat together?
Moe
: Pasta with red sauce. Or meat if we bring the meat.

Oh yes, the meat! Jen, What’s the best cooking lesson Moe’s ever taught you?
Jen: I’d always want to put a rub on steaks when I first started testing recipes. And Moe would be like, ‘it doesn’t need it. You don’t need any rubs!’ He’s also against marinades. Just a little salt and pepper.
Moe: If you’re a meat-eater, you don’t do that. And don’t over cook it — it dries up.

Credit: Christine Han
  • Biggest challenge in eating? We are at our butcher store six days a week, and we don’t get home until 7pm. My grandfather goes to bed around 9, so dinner always needs to be planned. Before I started helping at the store, I would play chef a lot for my family, trying new recipes for dinner and dessert. I definitely miss having more of a creative outlet in the kitchen.
  • How much do you cook at home every week? We cook at home almost every day! I feel like that is so strange to hear nowadays, but it’s what we’ve done our whole lives. If we do order or go out, it is something like mediterranean cuisine or pizza. We are very loyal to our local restaurants.
  • 5 things on your grocery list every week? Some sort of seasonal fruit — right now, we’re snacking on mandarins. Greek yogurt (Moe has some every morning). Eggs. Salad greens. And Moe’s favorite Italian biscuits.
  • Where do you shop, primarily? At our butcher store! Growing up, my grandfather would always bring the following day’s dinner home to us. We are very spoiled in that sense. We are also fortunate to live in a neighborhood where we can get any Italian specialty we want. Fresh made ricotta and mozzarella? Down the block. Our Italian supermarket with organic produce and imports is up the block the other way. If I need fresh bread I’ll go to my favorite place a few blocks away.
  • Top 3 default dinners? We will always make a soup, either chicken or lentil, starting with fresh carrots and celery. Another favorite when we don’t know what to eat is pasta with caramelized cauliflower, garlic, and oil. It is one of my personal favorite comfort foods and is super simple to make. When it’s just me and Moe for dinner maybe on a Friday or Saturday after work, I bring home the end of a beef tenderloin. It’s a perfect roast for two, and cook that up with some mandolin-sliced potatoes, and some steamed spinach. No complaints from grandpa because it’s so tender (and restaurant quality).
  • The last grocery you splurged on? A few weeks ago I cooked for some girlfriends (and Moe!) and bought some nicely aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. I took a holiday trip to the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, so I had a little feast with some cured meats I smuggled back (for research purposes of course)! Moe enjoyed the cheese A LOT.
  • Most genius cooking tip anyone ever taught you? Moe is the king of the grill! I’m still perfecting my chicken skills, but his secret is to always keep turning the chicken. I think that’s why it always comes out so good. And patience.
  • Cookbook you actually cook out of? Oh, lots of them! Most recently, I made us fish-sauce chicken wings, a recipe from the now-closed Pok Pok in Brooklyn. My mom bought me their cookbook because we would talk so damn much about those wings.
Credit: Christine Han

You’ve been open for so long. What’s your favorite part of this neighborhood?
Moe: Years ago, this neighborhood was a neighborhood. There used to be six or seven butchers on this street. People would hang out because they knew each other. Lots of people were coming to this area because they were attracted to the meat that we had and you would hang out like how we’re hanging out now. Now it’s not the same.

Credit: Christine Han

After nearly 100 years in business, what are some of your favorite memories in the shop?
Moe: Not anything special, but we used to have big dinners with friends and family in the shop. My mom might cook something, make frankfurters, whatever. Because they had to eat too. Years ago, we used to sell wine here too. For a dollar fifty you could get a gallon and a half of homemade wine. What are you thinking of Jen?
Jen: Years ago, on Saturday evenings, my grandfather’s family would cook in the back of the butcher store and have dinners. There was a kitchen back there. Then as he got older, his friends would come, and they would put out a table in the middle of the store and everyone would bring something. It’s a beautiful memory I would like to continue. Some people visit our store to buy meat, but everyone visits to talk to me and Moe. I just love the energy in here. It’s just so happy.

Credit: Christine Han

You don’t ever want to retire, Moe?
Moe: Retire? What do you want me to do? Sometimes I want to be here and serve the customers. There’s people like you that we meet and the day goes by. I don’t want to be here all the time, but the day goes by and that’s it, we go back home. If I wasn’t here, I don’t know. I think this is my outlet. You know what you have to do and you do it.

Thanks for sharing Moe and Jen! If you find yourself in Little Italy, stop in for a visit Albanese Meats and Poultry at 238 Elizabeth St, NY, NY.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.