Today the place is spare and uncluttered. It was closed when I went by and the only indication that Mr. Albanese was still at work was the calendar on the wall, turned to the current month.
Maybe he's just neatening up the place. Maybe it's a sign of vanishing. Either way, it got me in a sentimental mood (not hard to do).
For those who remember, or want to remember, the way Elizabeth once was, the following is excerpted from a journal I kept in 1996. Bear in mind, I was younger then and more exuberant, and the city was a more enlivening place.
Walking home, I stopped at LaRosa's on Elizabeth Street. I can’t resist that smell of hot baking bread that fills the neighborhood. I stepped inside. The bakers were pulling hot loaves from the oven. I bought one for 50 cents, broke it open on the street, and ate it with my bare hands. The soft, white bread was like warm milk.
I passed Bella’s Luncheonette where you can eat cheeseburgers at the window and maybe see Jim Jarmusch walk by.
Inside Albanese Meats, the butcher was working on a slab of beef, carefully trimming the fat. He stepped out to the street for a moment, the blood on his apron, knife shining in his hand. He looked around as if expecting someone, then nodded to me, and went back inside.
I went in and asked, "Is that veal you're working on?"
"You got a taste for veal?" he asked me.
"Yes," I said, "How much for one good cutlet?"
"About four dollars. You want one? I'll get you a good cut.”
He went to the back and took out a bag labeled HIPS and a long sharp knife. He tried out the knife on the HIPS before going back to the veal. His white-haired mother sat watching the television. She smiled at me. There was a poster-size photo of her hanging on the wall with a banner that said: Happy 90th Birthday.
Albanese mother and son
I watched the butcher work on the veal. It was still practically a calf. He slapped it with his palm, as if to wake it, then trimmed off a nice pink slice.
"Good?" he asked, holding it up to the watery light.
"Very good," I said, watching him wrap the cutlet in butcher paper and put it in a bag.
I was so happy, carrying home what seemed to be the most beautiful piece of veal in the world. I put on Mario Lanza, baked a potato, and fried up the cutlet dipped in egg and bread crumbs. It was possibly the most amazing piece of food I have ever put into my mouth.
Back to 2008:
- Watch Moe cut meat in this film by Val Albanese
- See pictures of Moe on cakehole's flickr
- When the authentic is gone, there will be only the simulacra