Babylon Village Meat Market
85 Deer Park Ave., Babylon, 631-669-0612, babylon
Babylon Village Meat Market is an old-fashioned butcher shop, and Lenny Popp is an old-fashioned butcher. He's big and friendly and plain spoken, equally comfortable with his clients and sides of beef. The former, of course, offer more feedback, and Popp relishes the give and take. He's well versed in their habits: "If one of my regulars comes in and asks for three pork chops, I ask, 'Who's missing tonight?' "
Popp was in his early 30s when Denis Brucculeri, his wife Barbara's brother, offered to teach him the butcher business. Popp started working with Brucculeri, the second-generation owner of Sal's Meat market in Massapequa Park, and a year later, in 1983, he opened Babylon Village Meat Market -- with a lot of help from his brother-in-law. "That first year," he recalled, "a customer would ask for something and I'd take the cordless phone into the meat locker and call Denis -- 'What do I do?' "
During the past 28 years, business has changed, with prepared foods now accounting for about half of Popp's sales. "When we opened," he said, "we had one frying pan for doing chicken cutlets. Now we have a 10-burner stove, two ovens and a deep fryer." But the soul of the place is still the meat. Where many butcher shops buy meat that has been "fabricated" at the wholesale level, Popp's walk-in is full of hanging carcasses that he and his staff (including his two sons) break down with the precision of a surgeon and the strength of a lumberjack.
This gives Popp more control over the finished product -- and yields lots of scraps and bones, allowing him to make all his own stocks, soups and gravies, and delighting his customers' dogs.