There are many words to describe New York’s Little Italy; “Italian” is increasingly not one of them. Rising rents and rapid gentrification have pushed this once 30-block neighbourhood into a tiny square of the city. At last count, none of its residents was born in Italy. There is, however, at least one surprising survivor: Albanese Meats & Poultry, “the last butcher in Little Italy”.

“My whole family used to live on this block,” says Jennifer Prezioso, Albanese’s fourth owner and sole employee. Her great-grandparents – both with Sicilian ancestors – set up shop in 1923. Back then, there were seven Italian-owned butchers on the block, many known for their cut-to-order counters. “If you go to any meat market in Italy they cut everything in front of you,” adds Prezioso, who learnt the trade from her grandfather, Moe. “Because it was all Italian immigrants here, everyone was very particular.” Albanese still offers double-loin chops, now a rarity in an age of pre-prepared options.

The shopfront in Little Italy
The shopfront in Little Italy © Christine Han

With its family photos, antique equipment and “fan art”, the shop now functions as both an “art museum and butcher store”. Among Prezioso’s favourite treasures is a copy of Maria Mazaretti Loves Spaghetti, a children’s book written about her great-grandmother, and a print of the neighbourhood from the 1990s: people still remember the postman pictured in the latter. Italian staples at the counter include meatballs ($17 per lb), porchetta ($10 per lb) and Tuscan-style salumi (from $12). 

Family photos and fan art
Family photos and fan art © Christine Han
Prezioso selects rib-eye cuts
Prezioso selects rib-eye cuts © Christine Han

Prezioso, who wears gold hoops and an embroidered “Jen” apron, didn’t plan to become a butcher. A former actress, she started driving Moe, then 93, to and from the shop between auditions in 2017. “He worked for fun; he wasn’t super-busy,” says Prezioso of her grandfather. “A lot of people would get advice from him – they saw him as a mentor.” A sign in the window reveals Moe’s favourite cut: “I got’cha steaks”, the shop’s prime ribeye ($35 per lb). “Got” customers include Francis Ford Coppola, who featured Albanese in his third Godfather film. 

The idea was that Albanese would one day close; a museum in nearby Albany had offered to repurpose the store as a permanent exhibition. But when Moe died in 2020, Prezioso kept going. He’d started giving her butchery lessons as his apprentice; she’d got to know his customers. “They tell me about their day and share recipes,” she says. “It’s not intimidating [for them] because there aren’t all these people behind the counter.”

Moe Albanese, former owner and Prezioso’s grandfather, pictured in 2020
Moe Albanese, former owner and Prezioso’s grandfather, pictured in 2020 © Christine Han
Groceries and New York eating guides on sale in the store
Groceries and New York eating guides on sale in the store © Christine Han

Many of these regulars have shopped at Albanese their whole lives: Italian-Americans out for home comforts – “I call them my chicken-cutlet ladies” – and locals with rent-controlled apartments. Joining them are wealthy Manhattanites, curious tourists and advice-seeking students. Recently Prezioso helped a “kid out of college” choose some sausages (from $7 per lb) for a pasta dish. “Take them out of their casings, mash them up in the pan, make some pasta and mix it together,” she told him. “Add some spinach or rocket: done.” For Christmas, porchetta is in and turkey is out. “A lot of people are being creative,” says Prezioso. “As a butcher, your goal is to have new recipes for people to try.” 

This month, Prezioso is hoping to get married. “We’re celebrating 100 years with a wedding,” she jokes. But while she’ll continue to front Albanese independently, her fiancé, an Italian sommelier, would make a natural business partner. “We’re kind of a perfect little dinner together,” she admits. 

Albanese Meats & Poultry, 238 Elizabeth St, New York; @moethebutcher

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