From the minute I walked into Prime Butcher Baker, the latest creation from the Prime Group, every ounce of jaded elitism that I may have developed over the years abandoned me. Part of the problem with writing about food is that you find yourself sampling so many gourmet items and going to so many impressive places that you can find yourself taking for granted things that are truly wonderful. But this butcher shop on the Upper East Side immediately vanquished any sense of “oh well, I’ve seen something like that before” that I may have had. To put it mildly, Prime Butcher Baker is glorious.
The first thing you see when you walk to the door of Prime Butcher Baker is the visible portion of their aging room just beyond their front window. This aging room is used by the butcher part of the store to dry age their beef and create their home made cured meats. Picture a large wooden room filled with gleaming metal racks all packed with huge sides of beef. Dangling from the sealing are clean looking lining packages filled with bresaola and salami.
The front of the store is the portion dedicated to the butcher shop. It’s a long and beautiful case filled with perfectly cut pieces of beef, lamb and veal. The thing I noticed was that not only was this case filled with the average hard to find cut of meat like a full veal breast or an entire crown roast, but it also contained cuts of meat I didn’t even know you could find kosher, most notably Porterhouse steaks. Porterhouse steaks are essentially a t-bone but cut from the rear end of the short loin so that the steak contains a portion of New York Strip steak and tenderloin. Tenderloin however is problematic because it contains the deeply unkosher sciatic nerve. Though there are kosher butchers that go through the arduous process of removing the nerve to be able to sell the tenderloin they are few and far between and I have never seen a piece of tenderloin still attached to the bone that had been given this kosher preparation.
Just above where the meat is presented is a counter containing the cured meats and delicacies. This section was my personal nirvana because it housed items that I had been dying to try for years. Things like the aforementioned bresaola which is top round that has been cured and air dried for several months and then sliced paper thin. Its flavor is beefy and salty and yet oddly delicate. There was also duck breast prosciutto which I consider to be one of the holy grails of kosher food. (No, the irony of that statement is not lost on me) The duck prosciutto is rich and fatty and melts in your mouth. It is one of the best things I have ever eaten. I also sampled the veal pate which was the best chopped liver I have ever had but slightly more compact and flavorful. These offerings are just a smattering of what the butcher has to offer and had I had the time or the stomach space I could have spent the rest of my day chatting with the helpful and friendly staff while I nibbled on dozens of different deli meats, sausages and items from the charcuterie.
Prime Butcher Baker is far from limited to just meat. They also offer a wide variety of excellent looking seafood and they have a prepared food section that allows customers to purchase take home versions of some of the dishes you find at Prime Grill, Prime Ko and Solo as well as a plethora of Prime Butcher Baker’s own prepared selections.
In the back is the bakery where all the Prime Group’s restaurants’ deserts are created daily. Patrons can also buy parve cakes, cookies, muffins and pastries all of which are amazing.
Overall I would say that Prime Butcher Baker is more than just a butcher shop and prepared food store. It is the next step towards creating a kosher environment that desires not just to purchase their meat in prepared Styrofoam packages but to connect with the person responsible for cutting it. This leads to a better understanding of what cut of meat you are buying and how best to prepare it. So if you find yourself eyeing your grill and wondering what would be best to put on it, make the pilgrimage to Prime Butcher Baker and ask one of the guys behind the counter to help you out.
Zechariah Mehler is a widely published food writer and expert in social marketing. Follow him on Twitter @thekoshercritic