I have been without brisket. Every year the winter becomes more difficult for me to survive. I have not had my father’s brisket, cooked with carrots and celery and potatoes until it all disintegrates into gravy. Nothing is quite so beautiful as the briskets I’ve missed.
At Schatzie The Butcher, you can buy whole roasted chickens, dry aged prime rib, and the brisket I have been missing my whole life. Tony Schatzie, a fifth-generation butcher, is the owner.
Butchery runs through his blood. In 2010, Schatzie moved the shop across the park from Madison Avenue to Amsterdam. Two years have already put authentic age on the walls. Schatzie and his meat are embedded in the neighborhood. The man is a mystery and a mountain. Wherever he stands, the pilgrims come. He is no saint but a saint of steak.
Schatzie’s brisket, the dirty stuff, is laced with a thin barbecue sauce—and it’s real fat, sweet beef fat. The recipe comes from Texas. It goes between slices of spongy white bread, maybe it’s tzitzel, or am I just dreaming? Is it too good to be true? It disappears like a dream.
Last year, I lived on Amsterdam and became intimate with the anatomy of the block: the crowds outside Barney Greengrass and Popover Café on weekends, the Eurotrash smoking outside the youth hostel, Dunkin’, and hustlers around the projects. I habitually ran by Schatzie the Butcher and thought, my god, and passed without stopping. But I longed to go on pilgrimage.
It took me months of doubt to make my way through the door. When I finally found my way to Schatzie, the desire for spring rain had bloomed in my bones. Gribenes, cold beef, and white canvas jackets scent the threshold. Schatzie works the counter, the crowd, his new website, and the phone, shouts “Señor, open the door por favor!” and wraps up chicken dinners. “Are you getting my thin side?” he asks me, posing before I get my pastrami.
Well could he know a draught of London ale. He could roast and seethe and boil and fry, and bake pies—“Tell him I loved the pies!” A woman pokes her head in the shop and retreats while Schatzie takes a break.
I went with my pastrami sandwich to the West Park Presbyterian Church. It’s raining. My lunch steams and drips fat. Thick sliced meat and mustard on rye. It’s a lecherous whore. I eat the sandwich like I have never eaten. At first, I put half the sandwich in my mouth and nearly choke to death. I imagine reclining on the church steps, on a bed of stones, just another corpse killed by an over-fondness for pastrami.
In his controversial conclusion to “The Renaissance,” Walter Pater describes the human experience as a summation of sensation. “Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us,—for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end.” A Schatzie sandwich is an end in itself.
The golden age of butchery has gone: we now inhabit a state of decadent decline. Those kids in Brooklyn, bringing carcass-cutting back? Fadsters, fakers, phonies. They’ve got no genealogy. Schatzie has a something that resists imitation. He holds the special authority of history in his meat hook hands.
Jason Bell is a Columbia College junior majoring in English. In Defense of Delicious runs alternate Fridays.