There are only so many old-style, independent butchers left in Red Bank.
There’s Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz‘ Gatta on Shrewsbury Avenue, of course, working the chopping block for some 60 years. The guys at Citarella’s Meats & Deli on Prospect Avenue. And smack in between them, Stew Goldstein of Monmouth Meats, on Monmouth Street opposite the Count Basie Theatre.
A Brooklyn native who now lives in East Brunswick, Goldstein, 53, has been in the trade since he was a teenager. And to revive its long-dormant Human Bites feature, redbankgreen took a few minutes recently to ask Goldstein about a lifetime of swing a meat cleaver.
Did you always know this is what you wanted to do for a living?
Yes. I never had any other jobs. This is what I enjoy. My father had a small family-style neighborhood store in downtown Brooklyn. He was in business for about 45 years.
Do you remember your first interaction with a side of beef?
My first interaction was when I was maybe eight, nine years old. I went to the wholesale market with my father.
What was that experience like for a kid?
You walk into a huge, refrigerated warehouse. The floor was wet and dirty things weren’t as clean as they are now. You had the carcasses, you got the smells. It was something I said I would never do. But I did. I knew nothing else.
Did your father give you any words of wisdom to take the fear out of that first trip?
No. My father would say, ‘Just do it. It’s not going to bite you. It’s dead.’
I recall that you’ve had a series of jobs in this industry.
I took over my father’s store after he retired and had that for about 10 years. Then I opened a store in East Brunswick. Sold that and opened up a store in Aberdeen. Sold that and went back to East Brunswick. Then I worked for a chain of Korean-owned produce and fish markets and ran the deli operations for them for about three years. And then I came here.
So where does ‘Stew’ come from? Is that a name you gave yourself?[Flummoxed] No, that’s my name!
I thought it was Lenny!
No. Stewart Goldstein. Lenny is the name I use when I don’t want to be bothered by people on the phone. So if telemarketers or whatever call trying to sell paper goods or lightbulbs and ask for the name of the owner, I tell them Lenny. So this way, if they call back, I know it’s somebody I can avoid.
I guess I should have gotten the hint. Do people assume, as I did, that Stew is a good nickname for a butcher?
No, I don’t think too many people think about that. It is weird, though, right?
So what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in consumer tastes over the years?
I think what happened is people have gone into the supermarkets in the past few years, especially with the prices of raw product getting so expensive, they realize the taste has gotten so bad that people are coming back to the small butcher, or I hope they are. They realize the taste is so much better and that the prices aren’t that different. It can even be cheaper.
How do you like your steak?
Medium rare, the fattier the better.
You’re going against the AMA’s recommendation?
I’m telling you what I like.
Who buys things like liver and brains these days?
Organ meat people eat that. Not as much as they used to because doctors say stay away, especially if you have high cholesterol. Old timers, that’s all they used to buy, I guess because it was cheap.
You’re across the street from the theater. Ever get any big names in here?
Did he take his potato salad into the restaurant?
I don’t know. I didn’t ask.
Is this sized butcher shop an endangered species?
I think if overhead is kept to a limit, if the rents don’t go crazy, it can survive.
Finally, which is more important, good food or comfortable shoes?
That’s a silly question. Shoes are so important, especially if you’re on your feet all day, but you’ve gotta have good food.