There, in front of Atlas Meat Market‘s rows of aged porterhouse steaks and legs of lamb and ground hamburger, Andrey is in his element, a place where he has arrived after a decade and a half of being trained by, and working with, butchers in what was once a food mecca that reigned supreme in the city: the Meatpacking District.
“I know meat very well,” Andrey says, pointing to a board on the Kensington shop’s wall that spells out customers’ options for meat, a list far too dauntingly long to list in its entirety but which includes chuck roast, ribs, sirloin steak, brisket, hamburger meat, and so on. “I know every muscle, everything about it. I can give advice on anything we sell, whether you want to cook for 15 minutes or you want to cook for two hours.”
In an age of mega supermarkets’ blinding neon lights, Andrey’s profession, the custom butcher, has been called a dying art – something which the Borough Park resident said he may not be able to change countrywide, but he’s certainly going to give it a go in Kensington. (Side note: of the approximate 138,900 butchers and meat cutters working in the U.S., 102,070 of them are in grocery stores and 12,120 work in smaller stores, like Atlas.)
He and his business partner, David Khanateyev, opened Atlas Meat Market at 4311 18th Avenue in December and, since then, they’ve been building a fan base that has already taken to Yelp to profess their love, with one ardent fan admitting he is “hopelessly addicted to their hamburgers.”
“I live in this neighborhood, and I never saw a butcher shop like this,” Andrey says, explaining why he and David wanted to open their business in the area. “The whole point of this place is fresh meat. I cut the meat in front of the customer, so they can see it’s fresh. I can marinate the meat, and I’ll put it on in front of the customer.”
The opening of Atlas Meat Market – which also sells such items as seasonings, fruit (there are bins brimming with watermelons, pears, and pineapples), barbecue sauces, meringues, and organic teas – seems to be, for Andrey, the culmination of much of his life’s work. Growing up in Ural, Russia, a region located around one of the oldest mountain ranges on earth and which is often referred to as the entryway to Siberia, Andrey ended up majoring in music in his home country and specialized in playing the saxophone. In the 1990s, he waved goodbye to his family and friends, many of whom still live in Russia, and set out for the United States.
“Like any immigrant, I needed to find a job,” says Andrey, who has since taken up guitar playing in lieu of the sax. “I started working in Meatpacking, and I had very good teachers. Those butchers, many of them had more than 50 years of experience.”
For 15 years, Andrey learned the language of butchering on 14th Street, Meatpacking District’s main artery, a place where animal carcasses have made way for such fashion labels as Alexander McQueen and Diane Von Furstenberg. It was there, Andrey says, that he learned his way with a knife that allowed him to carve himself a career and a life in America – and, now, Kensington.
Atlas Meat Market is located at 4311 18th Avenue (between McDonald Avenue and Seton Place). The store can be reached by calling (347) 915-2000. Open daily from 9am to 9pm.