Know Your Meat

Aidan Monzeglio, the youthful co-owner of Tim’s Prime Meats in Sag Harbor, was staring at three knives on a counter.

He spoke slowly, in a nasally monotone as he described their importance.

“Those knives are what makes my steaks look so appealing to the customer. Without those knives…” he trailed off as he nodded a greeting to a boning knife and then continued. “I bring them home pretty much every day. I don’t want anything happening to them. They’re my knives.”

Monzeglio has been in Sag Harbor for just over a year and a half (replacing a failed butcher shop at the same location) but he’s been butchering for eight years, since he was 19. Or, as he says, “as long as I’ve been working.”

He learned the trade from Tim McClung back when McClung ran the meat counter at Schmidt’s in Southampton. “Most of what I know today, I learned from Tim.” He then took a couple of years to work in a Nassau County meatpacking factory, “so I could learn how to break down cattle off the line.”

You might have seen him, running through the parking lot that he shares with the Sag Harbor Baking Co. (as yet there is no candlestick maker in town) to his huge walk-in meat freezer where he handles “the bloody work”; butchering cows, pigs, lambs and chickens.

Butchering is an ancient trade, dating back to when animals were first domesticated, and Monzeglio is proud of his work.

“Not many people know how to really cut meat, or know their meat. The normal family just goes to their local supermarket and they pick out the meat that is wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam platter.”

For Monzeglio, butchering is as much about personal relationships as it is about the meat. “I get to know you, and eventually, you come in, and I already know what you want. I’m your butcher, and you trust me.”

“I don’t offer prepackaged products. My place is focused more on what you want.” The clientele in the Hamptons is challenging for a butcher. Summer residents are international, and you could have Italians wanting veal cut one way and French residents wanting their beef cut another. “I need to make people feel like they’re home. A supermarket butcher can’t make that cut.”

Tim’s offers fresh fish, organic chickens from the high-end New Jersey supplier D’Artagnan, prime meats, grassfed meats from Niman Ranch and Berkshire Pork, and dry-aged meats in every cut you could imagine. “At first I offered only prime and dry aged, but I quickly learned that Sag Harbor is a very health conscious town. People here want grassfed. It’s healthier. But prime tastes better.”

If what you want is not in the case, he’ll run out back and make it for you fresh, or you can call ahead.

While the sesame-ginger marinated skirt steak is the most popular prepared item Monzeglio sells, he also offers Chinese marinated ribs, Jamaican jerk chicken, Hawaiian chicken sticks (popular with my children) and many varieties of sausages. Want to prepare it yourself? No problem. You’re surrounded by shelves full of condiments that would fit into the Jeopardy category: “Things That You Put on Meat.”

We’ve been talking for a half-hour. Another customer has entered the store and it’s time for me to go.

“Take a steak,” he says. He quickly wraps a red steak, bags it and pushes it toward me with his knife-scarred hand.

I tell him I cannot. Journalistic standards, etc.

“You gonna reject my offer?”

Glancing over his shoulder at the three knives gleaming in the autumn sun, I take the steak.

51 Division Street, Sag Harbor, 631.725.5255