Six days a week, Jerry Virtuoso rises early, arriving at the Lorimer Market at 6 a.m. to begin work on the day’s selection of prepared foods.
His mother’s meatball recipe and his home-made sausage and peppers are popular favorites among the new wave of neighborhood residents.
But it wasn’t too long ago, before the shop, located at 620 Lorimer Street, moved across Skillman Avenue, that it didn’t even sell prepared foods.
In the early 1970s, Jerry’s father, Nick Virtuoso, took over an old butcher shop after immigrating from Naples a few years earlier. Back then, “prepared foods” didn’t exist in this part of Williamsburg: the residents of this Italian enclave prepared their own food.
But the area has changed, and so has the family business: what was once a plain old butcher shop has evolved into a specialty market. When it moved across the street in 2005, “Lorimer Street Meat Market” became “Lorimer Market.”
In addition to prepared foods, the store has a lineup of made-to-order sandwiches, the first of which, “The Filomena,” is named after Jerry’s mother.
It also carries a selection of cheeses, from fresh mozzarella to the Rocinate goat cheese, which Virtuoso recommends.
Complementing the offerings is a variety of olives, imported olive oils, and Divella pasta imported from Italy. There’s also Pastosas ravioli, imported from Bensonhurst.
In the old days, carrying meat was enough. Now, the store’s variety reflects the need to cater to a heterogeneous neighborhood.
“We kind of have a little bit of everything,” said the perpetually apron-clad Virtuoso, 36, who moved the store across the street and gave it a makeover when he inherited the family business from his father.
“It’s like any other business: you have to change with the times.”
The new emphasis on prepared foods allows Virtuoso to showcase his skills as a chef, which he honed at the Institute of Culinary Education five years ago. From there, he worked as a chef at the Waldorf-Astoria.
But according to Virtuoso, the Waldorf has nothing on Williamsburg.
“Being at the Waldorf was great, but you don’t get to see anyone. Here, you’re with the people,” he said.
Despite the store’s variety, the store’s corn-fed angus beef remains its pride and joy.
In an age in which lean, grass-fed beef is the trend, the Lorimer Market is a holdout for the marbleized, tender corn-fed variety.
“With grass, the meat gets tough,” explained Anthony Faziola, Virtuoso’s brother-in-law.
“Corn-fed cows are more juicy. The more marbleization you have, the more juice, the more taste. Maybe if you get a piece of venison, it’s good if they feed from their natural habitat. But cows are not meant to be lean.”
All of the meat is either prime or choice. The store’s most popular selection is the prime rib, but it carries a variety of beef cuts, pork, chicken, and home-made sausages.
In adherence with Italian tradition, Friday is fresh fish day.
That Lorimer Market is still standing after all these years is a testament to Virtuoso’s hard work and willingness to adapt.
And, Virtuoso points out, the love he puts into his work.
“You have to love what you do. Otherwise, forget it.”