A fond farewell to M&S

The way the storefront at 312 5th Avenue is supposed to look.

The way the storefront at 312 5th Avenue is supposed to look.

Long before I moved to Brooklyn for real, I was a regular visitor to Park Slope – and a regular customer at M&S Prime Meats. The main reason I made that DTW-LGA flight so many times was to see Eric, of course . . .  but having an honest-to-God Italo-Uruguayan pork store, one that made its own mozzarella, PRACTICALLY ACROSS THE STREET kind of sealed the deal.

M&S is where I bought ricotta to spoon over fresh strawberries. It’s where I gazed wistfully at aged-til-just-this-side-of-funky slabs of beef, splurging on extra-thick rib-eye steaks once a year. It’s where I ran when I was out of pancetta, or needed spicy broccoli rabe or roasted red peppers. It’s where I discovered the joy of lard bread.

This past Sunday, after 10 days in Michigan, I dropped by to stock up. The window that usually featured hand-lettered lists of specials and odd newspaper clippings (most recently, tabloid coverage of Luis Suarez’s infamous bite out of Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder) had been transformed – I was going to say “defaced” – with slick invitations to check out somebody called “Russo” on Yelp. That was jarring. But the note on the door was worse:

We are sorry to inform you that M&S Prime Meats will close it (sic) doors permanently in August.
Due to Mel’s health problems, he can no longer spend and dedicate the time necessary to the store like it requires.
Luckily our good friend Jack, from Russo’s fresh mozzarella and pasta will be taking over the store and we know he will do a great job caring for it.
We would like to thank every single one of you for your support throughout these years, We will miss you.

THANK YOU and A BIG HUG FOR YOU GUYS and GOOD LUCK.

Mel

In retrospect, there were signs. Common items were inexplicably in short supply. Mel seemed glum and detached. Sometimes I’d enter the store and just stand there, waiting for someone to emerge from the back.

But this . . . this was far too abrupt.

I went back the following day hoping to catch Mel. I found him out front, shooting the breeze with a group of UPS guys on lunch break. “I just want to give you a hug,” I blurted out, and did. We exchanged a few pleasantries, I told him how much I loved the store, he basically repeated what he’d written in the letter, we wished one another good luck and good health, and that was that.

It’s probably just as well that my words stayed dammed up; food memories are like dreams, not nearly as interesting to others as they are to you. Still, it’s remarkable how many milestones in my Brooklyn life have involved food from M&S, starting with the first brunch Eric and I hosted together (sausage, red pepper and broccoli rabe frittatas), to our wedding party at the Bell House (ricotta for the cheesecake, plus something like ten loaves of lard bread), to our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple (those aforementioned rib-eye steaks).

Thanks for the memories, Mel.

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