butchers

Butchers, c. 1948

Butchers, c. 1948

elizabeth Street, NYC

I lived for about a year on Elizabeth Street in New York City, in 2012. In the early 20th Century, Elizabeth Street was a dense Italian ghetto in Little Italy. Sicilians located themselves on Elizabeth Street; not Mott, not Mulberry, only Elizabeth Street, where they were among their own people. Immigrants from other parts of Italy settled on the other blocks to the west, and little friendship passed between them. The area came to be called Soho, an acronym for South of Houston, and later, Nolita, North of Little Italy. Over time, the area evolved from an ethnic community to a bohemian one in downtown New York, and later into the boutique-riddled neighborhood that it is today.

My apartment on Elizabeth was a few doors down from the Albanese Butcher Shop, which I quietly frequented. Moe Albanese is the last butcher in Little Italy, and a Sicilian, whose family came to New York from the small mountaintop town of Polizzi Generosa, a commune in Palermo. Moe joined his mother at the shop after his father died and his mother was left alone to run the place. He courted and married a lovely woman from Mott Street, not one from one of the Sicilian families on his own street, just about as scandalous an act as one could imagine.

I could see that the Albanese Butcher Shop was still a community gathering spot – one of the last, apart from Cafe'tal, on Mott – for the few Italians left in the neighborhood. Folks, mostly oder ones, would stop in to take a seat on one of his rickety wooden chairs and chat for a while, but they didn’t buy much meat. perhaps a few slices of veal scallopine, or the occasional piece of sirloin for tagliata, but not much else. There were no condiments or accompaniments, requisites of butcher shops these days. It felt like a very different time.  Moe’s now 94 years old, and we all wonder how much longer he’ll run the shop. None of his children entered the family business, so there is no natural succession.