New York butcher offers smoked meats and supports Ukraine

In these series for T, author Reggie Nadelson revisits the New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from centuries-...


In these series for T, author Reggie Nadelson revisits the New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from centuries-old eateries to underrated eateries.

This spring in the East Village, blue and yellow flags are flying in the wind. The sign of support for Ukraine also hangs in the window, alongside curls of kielbasa and loaves of Lithuanian dark rye bread, at the East Village Meat Market, a butcher and grocery store at 139 Second Avenue. The name of the founder, J. Baczynsky, the “J.” abbreviation of Julien, remains emblazoned on the facade. A Ukrainian immigrant, he opened the store in 1970 and, in the half-century since, it has become a neighborhood anchor – and, since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a rallying point for friendly New Yorkers from all walks of life.

At the center of the shop is its current owner, Andrew Ilnicki, who presides over a group of mostly Ukrainian-speaking butchers and employees. As we chat, buyers flood in: a young man in an emerald green bicycle helmet buys a huge horseradish that could be used as a weapon; an older Ukrainian comes in for stuffed cabbage, one of the shop’s home-prepared dishes; and a woman in black skinny jeans rushes as her car idles on the sidewalk to ask if there will be cream cheese babka the next morning for her to serve at brunch. There will be.

The East Village has long been home to immigrants from Eastern Europe, and many dishes that New Yorkers like me consider Jewish fare — borscht, hash browns, stuffed cabbage — are, of course, equally Ukrainian or Polish. Customers stop by for the comforts of home, or at least their grandmother’s house, and for steak and chops, brisket and short ribs or jellied pork trotters, Hungarian salami and the pierogi stored in glass cases and along the shelves of the narrow space. Towards the back, a refrigerator holds hams, cheeses and kippers.

“We get our kielbasa and ham from Meat Market,” says Jason Birchard, the third-generation owner of Veselka, the Ukrainian restaurant across Second Avenue. “It’s the best, at a reasonable price.”

“What I love about Meat Market is that it’s a small town store in a big, big city. The food is delicious and the butchers remember you,” says Sally Roy, a film and television producer who has lived in the East Village for decades. “In what seems like an anonymous town, they treat you like a friend.” Roy now lives upstate, but never returns to the area without buying a town ham, a meat market specialty with very little fat.

Personally, I love country ham, another cut of pork. “The whole process is natural. We use minimal salt, and the smoking and cooking is done with natural wood,” Ilnicki says of the store’s meat offerings. He spends much of his early mornings helping prepare the kielbasa before hanging it in the shop’s 50-year-old smokers. It is made with pork and a small amount of beef. Nothing else? Ilnicki smiled, offering only “secret spices”.

An elegant man with intense blue eyes, Ilnicki has spent his entire adult life at the store. It’s a story he likes to tell: he arrived in New York in 1980, aged 17, from the town of Jelenia Góra in southwestern Poland. An aunt had invited him and one of his brothers to come and live with her in the United States, in Saint Mark’s Square. “I didn’t have English,” he says, but we heard about a job opening at the meat market. “I wanted to be a butcher, even though I didn’t know how to do it,” he recalls. Baczynsky brought him anyway and, within a year, showed him everything he needed to know.

He and “the boss,” as Ilnicki still calls him, grew closer, like father and son. Ilnicki laughs as he recounts memories of Baczynsky’s rich life, eating in the city’s great French restaurants and buying costumes from Bijan, the fabulous Iranian designer. Ilnicki stayed at the store while studying accounting and finance at NYU “At that time, I was still going,” says Ilnicki. He married his “200% Ukrainian” wife, as he describes her, Olha, and they raised their two children on East Seventh Street, the same block as St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, of which they are members. active members.

In the late 80s, Baczynsky had a medical scare and his wife pushed him to retire, so he began the process of handing the shop over to Ilnicki and another colleague, Antoni Tychanski. Last year, Tychansky himself retired, and Baczynsky died at the age of 98. Ilnicki remains, his passion for the community is clear to anyone who passes by.

On the counter near the entrance to the meat market is a jar filled with banknotes – contributions to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. “Before the invasion, nobody spoke much about Ukraine,” Ilnicki says. “But now that’s it. People hand me money and checks and say, ‘You’ll know what to do with that.’ Indeed, he is following the situation closely. “We all read the papers and watch the news, of course, but everyone who has family in Ukraine, including my wife, is always on the phone for more information.”

“Andrew has been instrumental in our efforts for Ukraine, especially working with St. George’s Church, getting much needed supplies to Ukraine,” says Birchard. “Canned food, medical supplies, sleeping bags. He’s a great friend.

When Ilnicki and I sit down for grilled kielbasa with horseradish at Veselka, he spots Birchard and calls him. Both men have worked in their respective spots on Second Avenue since they were teenagers. “We even have very distant cousins ​​in common in Ukraine,” Birchard told me later on the phone. “He is very caring. He was under the guardianship of Mr. Baczynsky, who was a father figure to the whole neighborhood, and he wears his coat. He learned from the best.

Later that week, I meet Tobi Rauscher, a German friend who lives in St. Mark’s Square and works for Google. “I went to the meat market not long ago because I saw their sweets and baked goods displayed in the window. I got what in my area is called krapfen and in other places it’s Berliner – what you call jelly donuts,” he says of the treats from his native Bavaria, to which the staff from Meat Market is referred to by a Ukrainian term, pampushky. He also got a pumpernickel loaf. “They were delicious,” he says. “They reminded me of home.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: New York butcher offers smoked meats and supports Ukraine
New York butcher offers smoked meats and supports Ukraine
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