If you’re new to Williamsburg, whatever you do, don’t leave without ordering a sandwich from The Meat Hook.
Brent Young & Ben Turley started the popular farm-to-table butcher shop six years ago – coming from swanky eateries Marlow & Daughters and Diner.
But after being raised near Richmond, Virginia, the duo felt they were really more just a couple of middle class kids.
So they packed up shop, instead opening their own, in a – then very blue collar – part of trendy Brooklyn.
“We would be like, ‘why are we making these fancy pates?’ We grew up on fucking hot dogs,” says Ben. “So we just needed to find a community to appreciate a really well made hot dog and feel good about where everything came from.”
With an emphasis on provincial eating and a clientele from Harlem to Cape Town, South Africa, Ben let us in on his secrets to success and genuine desire to better the industry.
What made you decide you wanted to get into butchering?
I already knew Brent, my business partner, and we were both working in restaurants down in Richmond, Virginia. We both ended up working at the same restaurant – like 7 years ago – and this small butcher shop opened up in our town. It was long before it was cool and anyone was writing about it. Brent started working there for like a year, and then so did I.
I mean butchering though. Why?
It was like just another skill set to me. In Richmond at the time it was like, if you’re a cook you’re a cook. You didn’t really expand on your knowledge base. I love meat and I wanted to learn more about it in the hope that when I owned my own restaurant I’d be able to bring like a baller game on the steaks.
So you’d always planned to have your own spot in NY?
I’d dreamed of it, yeah. I mean I think every line cook kinda has. But then I just really liked it a lot. Brent was working at Diner and from day one they needed help so I moved up. Then we both started working at Marlow & Daughters, and within a year we’d opened The Meat Hook. We really just wanted to be our own bosses. And that was like six years ago.
How did it evolve into a sandwich shop?
We’ve had this place for just over a year and it’s going so great. We’ve been making all the roast beef, mortadella and pepperonis for ages – for people to put on sandwiches themselves. But we’ve always felt like if we could just make it for them with the toppings we like and on amazing bread, people would just appreciate them a lot more.
What’s ‘the’ thing to order?
I think the Italian sandwich here is like fucking gonzo. It’s like a psychedelic take on a classic. We make the pepperoni and mortadella for it. We don’t do mayonnaise or anything like that. We actually whip pork fat with butter, fried rosemary and confit garlic into it.
Do you feel like Brooklyn is an inspiring place for food businesses?
I would say it’s inspiring because people here are really open to trying new things. They’re like super trusting of the restaurants, chefs, butchers and cheesemongers they have at their disposal. They are like so willing to walk in and just be like, ‘tell me what’s good.’ I feel like that is such an amazing thing because it enables both sides to get more out of the experience.
Where does all your meat come from?
We work with several farms, one or two of them exclusively. Like they don’t sell to anyone else. We have a flagship beef farm called Kinderhook Farm. Brett and I are actually going up there tonight to spend the night with our farmer and talk about how things are going and stuff. We were up there two weekends ago and we’ll be up again this weekend.
What about for you guys? You obviously care about sustainable eating, but is it good for business?
Business-wise is hard. This neighborhood is changing a bit now, but six years ago it was very Polish and Italian – so full of blue collar families. Which is honestly where we wanted to be. We’re both middle class kids and we would be like, “why are we making these fancy pates? We grew up on fucking hot dogs. So we just needed to find a community to appreciate a really well made hot dog and can feel good about where everything came from.
Do you find New Yorkers receptive to what you’re trying to do? Are they at least more interested in where their food is coming from?
I think so. I mean without even thinking about it, farm-to-table is growing in New York – and fast. The interest in the buying power is moving away from conventional meat and going into sustainable practices.
Is there a competitive pressure among food businesses here?
In some ways I’m sure there is that. I’m so glad. We get asked all the time if it sucks that there is all this competition coming up now. And it’s like ‘no man!’ The only way we’ll survive longterm is if this movement really takes off. You’ve really just got to welcome competition and try make it into a community. Otherwise it’ll be like ‘fuck you,’ ‘no, fuck you.’ That’s not going to help anyone. We all just need to be nice, because we are trying to do a good thing.
Do people travel here for the meat, or is it mainly Brooklynites you serve?
We actually get customers who come from Long Island, several couples who come from Harlem. This week we actually have a butcher from Barcelona coming to visit us and next week we have one from South Africa coming by.
Sandwich image credit | Liz Barclay.
By Ali Francis. For Supper.