I've been telling anyone who will listen. I've been running through the streets. Shouting on corners. It's as if it's 1988, and I'm going on about Nine Inch Nails at frat parties whilst being ignored by the ladies who loved Cool J. Or 1994, singing the phrases of D Generation at Newark's Studio 1, screaming over some horrible metal band's attempt at art. Or 1997, rambling on about Belle and Sebastian at bars in Hoboken, as backward-baseball cap-wearing dudes put another dollar into the jukebox to play Seven Mary Three for the 10th time in a row.
But it's 2010, and I have an internet connection and a blog (I forgot for a while), so damn it, my words will be heard! Read!
Sal Petruso, the proprietor and butcher at Westwood Prime Meats, is doing things the right way. And you can all be beneficiaries...if you would just tear yourself away from the supermarket for a few minutes.
I will admit that the only item I've had from Westwood Prime Meats is the hamburger meat. Is it shallow to judge a butcher based only on hamburger meat, you might rightfully ask? Not when it's this good it's not.
The first time I had the burger meat, I confirmed that it wasn't just regular ol' chuck going into the meat. Mr. Petruso said that it's leg meat and round. And maybe something else. It was all a bit vague, but the details aren't important, aside from chuck not being mentioned.
Here's the thing with chuck: you will hear many many people tell you that it's "the best" for hamburgers. They'll tell you that it has the "perfect amount of fat". They'll tell you this, and in the next breath remind you that "searing seals in juices" and that they "don't eat seafood unless they can see the ocean." *sigh*
And here's what I know for sure:
1) Every mediocre burger I've ever had was likely made from ground chuck
2) Every single exceptional burger I've ever had was most likely not made from ground chuck
Put 1 and 2 together, and you get something that doesn't equal chuck.
The meat at Westwood Prime Meats is ground to order, and this first batch was the most flavorful ground beef that I can remember buying (or making). In fact, it had a bit of a dry-aged quality to it. The burger I made that day, I can say, was as good as any I've had a Peter Luger. And those who know Peter Luger know that the burger there is pretty darned good. Luger is putting scraps of their dry-aged short loins in that meat, and those scraps take the burger to a whole new level.
Oh that's some fresh beef...but with some not-so-fresh (dry-aged and delicious) bits
During my next visit to Westwood, I mentioned to Mr. Petruso that I had sensed a bit of a dry-aged flavor in the ground beef, and asked if he was putting any of the dry-aged scraps into the mix (he is also dry-aging porterhouses and rib steaks for your pleasure). He confirmed that he does indeed add some trimmings on occasion. "But we don't call them 'scraps'. They are 'odds and ends.'" Call them what you want, they bring a wonderful, slightly funky, very meaty flavor to the beef. Unfortunately there were no odds and ends that day, as they had just come back from vacation.
When I returned for more ground beef, I asked if there were any of those odds and ends laying about. Mr. Petruso went into the walk-in, where through the window I saw him messing about with various pieces of meat, and 5 minutes later I had a beautiful pound of ground beef, peppered with dry-aged odds and ends. It says something when a butcher stops his butchering--he's always cutting some huge sub-primal into smaller pieces or meticulously cleaning up a rib section when you walk in there--and takes 5 minutes to prepare a single pound of 6 dollar ground beef for a customer.
The ground beef alone makes Westwood Prime Meats a treasure; we have a unique butcher in New Jersey who is doing something really interesting, on par with what those maniacs at Lobel's and Pat LaFrieda are doing across the river (but without the high tariffs). But if you're in the mood to learn about what you're eating, you can certainly get an eduction with your butcher visit, simply by engaging. I've had more extended in-depth discussions at Westwood Prime Meats on bovine myology than the average person should. During my last visit, we discussed beef ribs for about 10 minutes. On the way out I thanked Sal for his time, and noted that I always learn something during my visits. He replied, "the lessons are free...the meat you pay for."
Indeed, I shall.
Westwood Prime Meats : 190 Westwood Ave : Westwood, NJ : 201.664.0069