Formerly Kat & Theo, Merakia is a Mediterranean and Greek inspired meat house in the Flatiron district. I was invited in as a guest of Instagram influencer @NYCFoodFOMO to take pics and sample the menu. Here’s the breakdown:
We had the porterhouse. This baby had a great seared crust on the outside that was nicely charcoal flavored and charred. I enjoyed that aspect of it – you could taste the garlic that was rubbed onto it, as well as the variety of fresh Greek herbs. The meat itself was tender and juicy as well. It was dry aged somewhere between 28 and 32 days, and hailed from either DeBragga or LaFrieda (there was some confusion about this between what management said and what the chef said). The main pitfall for this delicious hunk of beef was that it was under seasoned.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 8
As you can tell from the menu, there is a pretty nice selection of beef on this otherwise lamb-heavy Greek meat house menu. I was impressed.
Portion Size & Plating: 8
Portions are all on par with similar steakhouses.
Since I ate for free, I have to designate this as a 10. The porterhouse was priced at $120, which isn’t too steep for 32oz, but could certainly be a bit lower. Other steaks are priced a bit high, close to the top end of the normal range at expensive midtown steak joints.
This joint offers some really unique cocktails.
I really enjoyed the “Metal & Dust.” It even came with a small triangle of home made strawberry fruit leather.
The bar itself was really nice, and I would definitely hang here for drinks any time.
Specials and Other Meats: 9
Lamb is the way to go for non-beef meats. This is a Greek joint after all, and they do it well. We tried three different lamb items.
Avid readers of this website will know of my affinity for lamb ribs. I absolutely love them, and I even sell them. Merakia nails them! Perfectly seasoned, nice balance of crisp lean meat to fat, and nice with a squeeze of lemon and some tzatziki. There are enough to share between two people in one app order (five meaty ribs).
This is an entree, and it comes with four nicely sized chops. These were a slight bit overcooked for my liking (more like medium to medium well), and also under seasoned. But damn were they good quality. I still recommend them.
Kleftiko (“mountain thief” lamb stew)
This was the star of the night. If you eat here, you must order this. It is a 200 year old family recipe that the chef has carried down for generations. The story behind this traditional dish is that thieves would steal a lamb and cook it in the mountains, covering it underground in the process to conceal the smoke and aromas. It makes for a nice concentration of flavors. Mixed in with the stewed lamb meat are peppers, herbs, spices, and Greek cheeses. It is served in a sourdough bread bowl.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 10
I mentioned the lamb ribs just a moment ago. Those are top notch. Based on that, I’m giving full points here. We were too full for dessert so we skipped.
Seafood Selection: 8
There are some nice looking fish entrees and apps on the menu. We didn’t get to try them this time around, but we will certainly be back for them.
Amazing people are running this joint. Very attentive but not in your face all the time. Eager to make your dining experience excellent. Chef Scalco is very friendly and enjoys talking about his family recipes and the history of the dishes. If you’re into that sort of thing, you will love this joint.
This is what your table bread will look like: nice toasty bread, high quality olive oil and tasty olives.
I was blown away by the interior of this restaurant. Tin ceiling with awesome beams and Edison bulbs up front:
And a cozy, rustic brick-walled and beamed-ceilinged rear dining room with a fireplace.
I highly recommend giving this place a shot – especially for the lamb ribs and kleftiko.
As in my prior guest review for BLT Steak in White Plains, it’s important to start by saying that I am not qualified to properly review a steakhouse – at least not when compared to the Carnivore Connoisseur himself. But with steak, as with art, I know what I like. For context, my favorite steak place is Peter Luger, which has a reputation for being overhyped with respect to the steak (but is appropriately hyped with respect to its atmosphere). Also, it’s important to note that my reviews are often through the lens of a parent dining with children, as is the case here. So certain priorities differ from Johnny Prime’s. Nonetheless, I can use Johnny’s well-conceived ranking system as a structure for my ill-conceived opinions.
I wanted steak for my birthday, but a babysitter doubles the price of a steak dinner right off the bat. And a trip into Manhattan with the kids is a suicide mission unless the destination is kid-centric. So my favorite NYC steak joints are just not as convenient as they used to be. I was almost resigned to visiting the local diner for an order of steak and eggs. But then I found brunch at Benjamin Steakhouse in White Plains – owned by the same folks as Manhattan’s Benjamin Steakhouse and Benjamin Prime.
Benjamin’s rib eye was great. A nice salty crust and medium rare to my liking. I picked this place because it was close, but also because Benjamin has some genetic history with my beloved Peter Luger, as its owners came from Lugers.
I ordered the rib eye hoping to get plenty of fat and juice, knowing that the NY sirloin or filet minion would be too lean for my tastes (I learned such basics from Johnny’s outstanding Meat 101 and 102). The ribeye was juicy with a nice edge of fat. I would have actually welcomed a thicker strip of fat. I love the fat. When I was a kid, my dad said eating the fat put hair on your chest. Based on the veritable forest I have there, he must have been right.
Side note: I have to remember to ask Johnny if it’d be appropriate to ask a steakhouse waiter for a “fattier cut,” or if that’s weird or stupid in some way. Is a big strip of fat technically bad? It is less meat after all. When I go to a BBQ joint, I always ask for burnt ends of the brisket – which are viewed as inferior by some. But the burnt ends are my favorite. I think asking for burnt ends makes you look like you are “in the know,” with BBQ, but without being too big a douche. I wonder if there are any such questions appropriate for the steakhouse with respect to fat.
Choice of Cuts & Quality Available: 8
We ended up at Benjamin for brunch, rather than dinner. Fortunately, Benjamin still offered their full menu in addition to a brunch menu. For guys like me, stuck in Westchester with kids, who still want the full steak experience on their birthday, this was a godsend.
The menu offered porterhouse (for two, three or four), NY sirloin, filet mignon, and a rib eye. No wagyu. The steaks are “Chef Selected, Dry Aged in Our Own Aging Box” as per the menu. Johnny discussed these cuts in his review of Benjamin Prime better than I ever could.
I would have loved a porterhouse. Unfortunately, I am almost always eating steak alone. My wife and kids would rather eat salad and breadsticks. So they can have their birthdays at Olive Garden if they want. I should have manned-up and just ordered the porterhouse steak for two and eaten it alone ala “John-Candy-in-The-Great-Outdoors.” But my wallet talked me out of it.
Portion Size & Plating: 8
My ribeye was handed over on a heated dinner plate and I was pleased to see a very generous portion. I had thought perhaps they would send their dinkier cuts up north. Plus, I was there at brunch-time. But this was a nice big steak to satisfy my birthday hunger. I was so relieved when I saw that hunk ‘o meat. My birthday steak quest had ended. And it ended nicely.
I do prefer a “sizzling steak presentation,” which I think may be reserved for the porterhouse. Lugers, for instance, delivers your steak already cut, sizzling, dripping with juices and butter; and the plate tipped up slightly so the juices run into a puddle. I know, I know. As Johnny has taught us, that this can result in overcooking and doesn’t allow your steak to rest. I guess I don’t mind sacrificing some taste for a little razzle dazzle, plus I do like steak a little more on the done side anyway. (See, I told you I lack the credentials to review steak).
The prices were fair for a high-end steak place, albeit on par with Manhattan prices (which is to say expensive). I thought perhaps the non-Manhattan real estate would bring some savings to me. But, I am sure I am paying an upcharge on steaks imported all the way from Manhattan. Also, steak is probably a “prestige pricing” type of item. A place like Benjamin isn’t looking to compete on price. If anything, it probably wants to match Manhattan prices as to convey a match in quality.
Bar: 8 (officially un-reviewed. But to complete the cumulative score, I’ll give it an 8 based on Johnny’s review of Benjamin Prime’s bar, which I assume is of similar quality.)
I’m not a huge drinker. It was brunch. I was with two kids. Suffice to say I didn’t even see the bar. If I was offered a drink menu, I didn’t notice. I was busy keeping my kids from coloring the cloth napkins and sneezing onto the next table.
Since I can’t talk about the bar, I’m going to use this space to describe how great Benjamin brunch was for kids. Make no mistake, Benjamin is not “family friendly,” in the marketing meaning of the term. Benjamin is not “for kids,” in any sense. There was no kids menu. They did not have cups with lids or coloring pages and crayons (we came with our own crayons and paper as per the standard parent eating-out survival kit).
Before we left the house, I called Benjamin with a sincere inquiry as to whether bringing kids was okay. Albert (who answered the phone) said it was fine. I clarified that my kids can strain the limits of polite society. Albert again said it was fine. And God bless him, he was clearly sincere in his reassurance, which meant a lot.
The waiters at Benjamin were pretty formal and proper; as one would expect from an upscale steakhouse. But even the most uptight waiter smiled sweetly when our kids offered obligatory, parentally-mandated “pleases,” and “thank yous.” I observed another table, with a baby in a high chair, who was keeping busy by dropping his toy on the floor every thirty seconds or so. The table was in the path to the kitchen. Waiters, time after time, without issue, happily picked it up and handed it back to the kid without so much as a mild eye roll or subtle grimace.
The food came fast, which is perfect when dining with kids. The check came fast. With the ticking time bomb of children in a restaurant, this is ideal. We did not feel like we were being rushed. Rather, I think Benjamin boasts an astute service staff who recognizes that a quicker meal pace is needed for a family with young children – as opposed to a romantic date, which should take more time.
Towards the end of our dinner Albert came by as my son was writing out his alphabet. Albert kindly chatted us up and made a deal with the kids (after getting our permission). Albert said that if my son got to “Z,” in the alphabet, he’d bring out ice cream sundaes. My son immediately skipped from “G” to “Z.” (True story. He’s his father’s son). We made him finish the whole alphabet, and as promised, two wonderful sundaes appeared, on the house. And truth be told, we got a third, on account of my daughter’s nut allergy (so I got hers when she got her nut free version!).
All of this, and we never even told them it was my birthday.
Again, this is not a kid’s restaurant. It’s a nice place. So I’m not sure you would want to bring any toddler during primetime dinner hours. But for brunch, Benjamin staff was beyond a class-act for us parents – on edge about bringing their kids to a nice restaurant. Benjamin brunch wasn’t too busy and turned out to be a genius birthday plan. I was able to spend that babysitting money on a good steak, without letting my kids ruin a nice Saturday night out for folks just looking to dine in peace.
Specials and Other Meats: 8
The brunch menu was pretty brunchy with pancakes, eggs benedict, chicken ceasar salad, a frittata, and not a lot of meat offerings. A burger and thick cut bacon were the most substantial choices. The full menu does not include the burger, but adds rack of lamb and a veal chop, (double thick, extra heavy cut).
My wife’s burger, ordered medium, was just okay. Perhaps I expected too much. Burgers aren’t on the regular menu. So if a place is only cooking a few burgers a week for a brunch crowd, it’s not likely to be an outstanding item.
Apps, Sides & Desserts: 9
While I am a self-proclaimed novice at steaks, I can confidently speak about sides and desserts. Here’s what we had:
Fries – Benjamin’s fries were good. Thick cut, but not steak fries.
Chocolate chip pancakes – We got these for the kids. They liked them but did note that the dark chocolate chips weren’t their favorite. Naturally, as good parents, we followed up that healthy lunch with some ice cream.
Schalg – To my surprise and delight, the kids did not care for the schlag that came alongside the pancakes. Schlag, for the uninitiated, is a whipped topping, pretty much like whipped cream, but not very sweet and perfectly thick – much thicker than your average Cool Whip. I first got this stuff at Peter Luger and it is my absolute favorite. I ate it alongside my steak as to enjoy fresh. No regrets. To me, a great combination.
Ice Cream – Nothing fancy, but pretty much perfect as far as ice cream sundaes go. Fudge, nuts, and a cherry on top.
Seafood Selection: 8
We didn’t try any seafood. Brunch offered a good number of seafood items including tuna tartar, lobster bisque, crabcakes, and oysters on the half shell. The full menu had Chilean sea bass, grilled Norwegian salmon, grilled yellowfin tuna, 3 or 4 lb. jumbo lobster (broiled or steamed), and lobster tails.
In addition to the outstanding “kid-centric” service discussed above, Benjamin service was top-notch all around. The waiters were proper and distinguished, keeping the service mostly as an official, arms-length affair. Not unfriendly at all. Just appropriately formal. They entertained my wife’s questions, substitutions, and indecisiveness without flinching. Meanwhile, Albert roamed the floor gregariously, making sure everyone was happy. The food was delivered in a flurry by at least three or four well trained servers.
When we got to Benjamin, I had my doubts about Albert’s assurance that it was cool to bring little kids. By all appearance, it’s a place for grown-ups who are looking for a nice quiet, classy meal. White tablecloths. Black bow tied waiters. Big leather-bound menus. Darkly lit. It’s a nice place with all the ambiance of a classically nice steakhouse. Meanwhile, my children can turn Tasmanian Devil in an instant. Strategically, we decided to sit outside. There was no waterfront table or rooftop view. But my kids could be a little squirmier without worrying about upsetting the normal folk.
610 Hartsdale Road
White Plains NY 10607
I took this bag of jerky down at the airport while my wife and I were waiting for a delayed flight.
It was a bit tough, unfortunately. I think much of the meat was flank or skirt, which is fine, but it just wasn’t very tender and the fat didn’t soften up too much. It was kinda dry too, and made my jaw muscles hurt to tear and chew at it so much.
Anyway, I’ll carry the rest of this over from my Biltong USA review as well, just so you can see the pics and get the full context:
When my wife and I went to Savannah, we saw this sign and absolutely had to investigate.
It turns out they were selling a lot of Buffalo Bob’s products, and I’ve pretty much tried every single one of them already.
I was somewhat bummed until I saw two other meat snack brands that I hadn’t tried yet. The first was Biltong USA, and the second was this brand, Horton’s, which was local out of Georgia.
When my wife and I went to Savannah, we saw this sign and absolutely had to investigate.
It turns out they were selling a lot of Buffalo Bob’s products, and I’ve pretty much tried every single one of them already.
I was somewhat bummed until I saw two other meat snack brands that I hadn’t tried yet. The first was Biltong USA, and the second was Horton’s, a local brand out of Georgia.
I had always been curious about Biltong, a popular African meat snack that is similar to beef jerky, only sliced differently. As you can see it is lived in such a way that makes for a more tender eating experience than many styles of jerky.
I really liked this product, and will definitely be buying it again in any flavors I can find. This one was garlic flavored. Delicious.
Like all great businesses, there’s usually a great story behind the success. Let’s take Strassburger Steaks, for example.
A girl brings her father a homemade sandwich to the family’s beef plant in the Bronx – I’m guessing roast beef with horseradish sauce on a nice crusty roll. There, she meets her future husband, who is working as her father’s right-hand man. Over 150 years later, that family still prides itself on the traditions of dedicated daughters and great steak.
Suzanne “Suzy Sirloin” Strassburger and her sister Andrea work with their father, who has passed down to them five generations of work ethic along with a successful and well-respected business. In the story above, the father is Suzy’s great-great grandfather, and the daughter is her great grandmother.
Suzy and Andrea’s own father, Peter “T-Bone” Strassburger, is an innovator and leader in the industry. He started boxed beef in New York (wholesale cuts of beef, like rib and loin, individually packaged and placed into boxes for shipping), and he educated many steakhouses on the virtues of aged beef. In fact, his family was the first to install an aging room in their plant.
But in addition to supplying prime, dry-aged beef to high-end NYC restaurants, Strassburger also sells steaks online at the consumer level. And now Suzanne is also promoting her brand “Suzy Sirloin” to grocery stores around the city. With this venture, she is moving pork and all natural, hormone-free beef as a way to diversify. Smart!
She has a knack for marketing, too. It’s not often you see a woman walking around Manhattan in a big straw cowboy hat, but that’s Suzy’s signature accessory, and it’s even featured as part of her “Suzy Sirloin” logo.
She has said that she wears the hat as a sign of respect to all the hard working ranchers that produce the beef she sells. Right on! I can get on board with that.
Suzy is also a fellow Masters of Beef Advocacy graduate and Top of the Class trainee, like me, so we both like to blab about the benefits of beef, both for society in general and as part of a well-balanced and nutritious diet. You can check out her blog here, but she also founded The Sirloin Report, to which I’ve linked in the past.
I had a chance to interview her on the phone. We started from a string of 10 questions, and chatted from there. Read on below and enjoy! I’ve done my best to distill our conversations down to all the best bits of information.
1) When did you realize you wanted to work in the meat business? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did it take some time to grow on you?
I knew immediately that I wanted to work in the business from the age of three or four. I always thought it was cool that when I asked my dad what he did, he’d respond that he worked for Poppa [Suzy’s grandfather]. Any day off that I had from school, I would be at the family meat factory helping out, answering phones, anything I could do.
Suzy went to college and started working professionally at the company around age 24. She worked literally every job in the business; putting together boxes, packing the boxes, you name it. This allowed her to really understand the challenges faced by each employee. She even worked beside guys in the cooler who had been there since her grandfather was running the place.
Suzy talked a lot about her family’s five and six generations in the meat business (both of her dad’s parents had beef industry families), and a lot about her dad.
Suzy has had some great success, but she says that her dad is a tough act to follow. He had eight plants out west that produced 10 million pounds of beef per week. He was the first wholesaler to box beef and to dry age beef in NYC. He’s still working today at 78 years old, and he always encourages Suzy and her sister to work hard and keep learning. In fact, Suzy went back to school this year and is enrolled in a program at Harvard business school. She’s always staying current and continuing to learn.
2) What is a typical day of work like for you from start to finish?
My work changes from day to day depending on where the business needs me. Some days I’ll be buying, other days selling. I’m also the business’ problem solver, so I have to make sure that everything is coming together and running smoothly.
3) What are some of the challenges and rewards you experience working in this business?
While the work was more challenging when I was younger, assembling the right team and having the right people around really helped. My sister runs the most challenging aspect of the business, which is collections. As for the most rewarding aspect? Enjoying a delicious steak at a client’s establishment.
4) I know you supply one of my favorite restaurants, Keens, with its beef. Do you also supply them with their legendary mutton?
Suzy does not supply Keen’s with their mutton. She deals exclusively in beef.
5) How do your foodservice clients choose their beef? Do they rely on your selection, or do they choose the cuts themselves?
Both. Some clients wish to choose everything, while others have developed long and trusting relationships with my family and rely on our expertise.
Suzy also explained that this loyalty and trust goes in the other direction too, from her to her beef suppliers. When times get tough and beef is hard to come by or expensive, Suzy has long standing relationships in place that allow her to still get her hands on the best supply.
6) Do you find that your clients and customers are well versed in beef nutrition, safety and the various niche labels, or is that something about which you constantly have to educate?
Suzy is constantly educating people about beef. She and I both went through the MBA and Top of the Class programs with the NCBA, so she, like me, is constantly providing useful information to people, both client and consumer alike. But there’s one thing she likes to say about food safety:
Buy it cold, serve it hot and keep it clean!
7) Is there a particular region of the country or breed of cattle from which you like to source your beef? I know food trends are pushing hard for “local” products, but doesn’t the best quality beef come from the Midwest and Texas?
Suzy supports ranchers and farmers from all over. She tries to make sure the client is happy. Whatever the client wants to serve at their restaurant, she will help to make it happen.
8) How often do you interact with farmers, ranchers, and other producers before the beef gets to your operation?
The reason Suzy wears her cowboy hat all the time is because she believes that beef and her business is ultimately all about the ranchers and farmers. She visits ranches and farms often, and many of her close friends are ranchers, farmers and butchers. She surrounds herself with people who are working with the animals daily. Not only does Suzy understand what goes into beef production, but she respects the process and doesn’t take for granted what these hard working families do for the American food supply.
9) I’m a big fan of dry-aged beef. Do you find that any particular cuts take to this process better than others, and are there amounts of time that are too long or too short for producing good flavor?
We dry age middle meats like shells [bone-in strip loins], short loins [porterhouses and t-bones], and ribs. We typically age them for three to four weeks, but it really depends on what the customer or client wants.
After we chatted for a bit about her family’s important role in the world of dry-aged beef, Suzy astutely pointed out that no two aging rooms are alike. The way the beef turns out all depends on how often people walk in and out of the room, the air circulation, the lighting, temperature, humidity, etc.
10) What’s your favorite cut of beef and why? Grilled, smoked, or seared in a pan? And how often do you eat beef in any given week?
A grilled, prime, boneless New York strip steak is my favorite. And I eat beef 14 times a week.
If you don’t already know about Delmonico’s, then you’re missing out. For over a decade, I’ve gotten pissed off every time I’ve seen TV shows or news articles about steakhouses (both in NYC and throughout the country) that discussed a whole bunch of mediocre places without Delmonico’s even so much as being mentioned. I’m happy to see that trend is finally changing, and people are waking up.
Not only is this joint serving up some of the best steaks in town, but they were first. Yeah. That’s right, Peter Luger fans. This place was the first fine dining restaurant in America, opening its doors in 1837. They invented the “Delmonico” Steak (a boneless rib eye) and Delmonico Potatoes, obviously. But they also invented Chicken a la King, Baked Alaska, Lobster Newberg, Egg’s Benedict and Manhattan Clam Chowder.
It’s one thing to be first or to have been around a long time, but it’s quite another to be consistently top notch. While I’ve only been getting down on steaks for this blog for about six or seven years, I can honestly tell you that they’ve always been a top choice favorite of mine, sitting comfortably in my top three to five steakhouses for the entire time. Right now they are first on the leader board, at 97/100 points. The 45-day dry aged rib eye is one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten, and their bacon is hands down the best in the city. My full review base on several visits is HERE.
But anyway, on to the point of this article.
This month Delmonico’s is celebrating its 180th year in operation. Starting on 9/14 they’re offering 180-day dry aged bone-in rib eye steaks to mark the occasion. They’re being served on keepsake plates that you get to take home, featuring the artwork of New Yorker cartoonist John Donohue.
The steak is about 28oz of bone-in rib eye, and it’s magnificent. I was invited in to try it with some other steak connoisseurs.
It has a deep nutty and earthy funk to it, while still remaining juicy and tender. Chef Billy Oliva really nails it. This cut is being offered at $380 and is easily shareable, since you also will need to try some of their signature apps, sides and desserts when you go.
But that’s not all. The restaurant has also invited a bunch of well known chefs to create dishes that celebrate Delmonico’s 180th. This special tribute menu is available from 9/14 through 10/14.
I was able to try a few of these items as well (I focused mostly on the beef-centric dishes, though I did try some others). My favorites were as follows:
Chili Rubbed Rib Eye with White Corn Pudding, by Michael Lomonaco, Porter House.
This steak is in the vein of those cajun rib eye steaks you might see at Greenwich Steakhouse or Smith & Wollensky. It is truly delicious, and I highly recommend it if you’re not springing for Chef Billy Oliva’s 180-day dry aged rib eye.
Tournedos Rossini, by Paul Liebrandt, two Michelin starred chef, author and consultant.
That’s a massive, tender and juicy filet mignon sitting on a potato pancake and sautéed spinach, all topped by some foie gras. This is 100% pure decadence. Awesome dish.
Lobster Shepherd’s Pie, by Danny Meyer, Union Square Cafe.
Nine Herb Ravioli, by Daniel Boulud, Daniel.
Beef Wellington, by Harry & Peter Poulakakos, Harry’s Steak & Cafe.
Paris Brest Profiteroles, by Dominique Ansel, Dominique Ansel Bakery.
I really suggest you get down here between 9/14 and 10/14. I know I’m going back at least two more times this month to try more shit. Get on it, people. This is a rare opportunity to try a wide variety of amazing dishes and steaks. Tell them Johnny Prime sent you.
It’s 1:00 am. It’s bitter cold outside, early December. Phil Trowbridge is making his first of three rounds throughout the night to check on his animals. He’ll do the same at 3:00 am, and then at 5:00 am, before even starting the day. It’s harsh, but it always has to be done, every day, even on Christmas.
He hears and sees one of the cows struggling. She’s panicked. When he gets close he knows his long work day is going to be even longer. Her entire reproductive system has prolapsed, and if he doesn’t act quickly, she’ll die.
Phil’s son PJ is with him helping, as he’s done all his life. They live just a stones throw away now that a neighbor sold his house to PJ. They run the farm together.
They get the cow into the chute and place her prolapsed uterus onto a makeshift table that Phil created on the fly, using a stretched feed bag. They raise a bar up under her to keep her from shifting, moving, and making an already dire situation even worse.
The climate in the Hudson Valley can be wet and icy. Her front legs slip forward while her back legs remain propped up from the bar. She tips forward. Now things could get really bad.
But it’s a happy accident. She can’t move, and her body is angled in such a way that it’s perfect for getting her insides back in place. Phil ties her front legs and pulls them forward, keeping her at that angle, while PJ – hands and arms numb with cold in the frigid, dark December air – puts their cow back together again.
After spending a day with Phil and breaking bread with his family over dinner, I asked him and his son to tell me the most challenging and rewarding aspects of their profession. Phil told me that story, and it exemplifies both challenge and reward together in one grueling morning.
Phil has had to deal with maybe three prolapses in his decades of experience working with cattle, but he knows how to address the problem. In fact, he knows how to fix so much of what can go wrong on the farm, that if his veterinarians get a call, they’re truly worried.
I asked Phil and his son what the hardest part of their job is. Both he and PJ were modest: They told me it wasn’t a hard job, but I know I wouldn’t last a week doing what they do, day in and day out. Given the daily farm work on top of everything else they do, no one is ever idle.
While many things may come easy to Phil and PJ with their collective wealth of experience, there are still some things with which they have trouble.
Phil told me that losing an animal is hard. When that happens, it stays with him. His heart breaks. The roughly 400 animals in his care are like children to him. He checks on them all day, grows and mixes their food, feeds them, cleans them, monitors their health and keeps them healthy, delivers their babies… That’s respect. That’s love.
And from what I’ve seen it’s not just Phil; it’s all cattlemen who are worth a damn in this business. You don’t step into this lifestyle without respect and love for the animals. That’s something the average person doesn’t understand about our cattlemen.
Phil runs Trowbridge Farms – a patchwork of pastures, farms and barns that spans 1700 acres in Ghent, NY, about two hours North of Manhattan by train/car on the east side of the Hudson River.
Phil is originally from Buffalo, so this area may as well be Florida to him. When he first arrived here decades ago, he was surprised that cattle could even feed on pasture.
You may be thinking something like, “How the hell can someone run cattle in New York, where taxes and land costs are so high?” And that’s an excellent question.
The majority of land Phil works and uses is not his own. Rather, he rents and leases land from homeowners who are weekenders and summer vacationers from New York City. They own second homes, but allow Phil to raise feed crops and grasses there, and to graze his animals on the land, in exchange for rent or barter.
Because of this system, Phil can probably raise cattle cheaper than most places in the country. The relationships are mutually beneficial: Phil maintains the land, and the homeowners can sit back and earn additional income.
The soil here is everything. Across the Hudson, the earth is like clay, and therefore it’s harder to raise crops. Here, it’s more gravely and easier to work with. Phil couldn’t have this kind of productive operation if he didn’t understand the soil and how it affects plant makeup. In fact, there is pressure from dairy farms to get this better land for the alfalfa.
“Why?” For their feed.
Alfalfa is a high production, high nutrient legume plant that Phil uses in his cattle feed.
He takes three or four cuttings, and when I visited on July 2nd, he had already taken the first cutting. With his bromegrass and Timothy-grass farms, he only gets two cuttings. He also grows oats and corn as well, and makes his own hay and baleage.
Baleage, or silage, is a fermented feed that helps cattle in their digestion process. It also keeps longer without spoiling. That combination makes for an economically viable and nutritionally beneficial feed solution.
To make baleage Phil uses a vertical grinder and mixer first, to break up the feed crops. Then he covers it with tarp and weighs it down with specially cut tires that won’t collect water and draw mosquitoes. This allows the fermentation to occur and turn the crops into cattle feed.
While Phil grows and makes most of his own feed, he does buy some corn because it’s cheap. He also works with local distillers to get fermented corn mash byproduct, which is similar to baleage in its digestive benefits. It’s also a great way to reduce commercial waste and make good use of stuff that is otherwise discarded.
Cows love grain and alfalfa because they’re sweet. Alfalfa can be so rich, nutrient-wise, that at times Phil has to cut his feed with more fiber so that the cows don’t get too heavy.
“Why? Don’t we want big, heavy animals in the beef industry for price-per-weight values?”
It depends. In his sector of the business, Phil is primarily concerned with producing bulls and calves of good breeding stock and genetics, not to get them up to a high market weight for later eating, like what you often see at feed yards in the Midwest.
Phil ultimately wants comfortable females for breeding, and energetic, virile bulls for seeding. So, nutrient-wise, Phil takes different things into account because his end product is a much different animal, produced with a different purpose, than those produced in other sectors of the business: Phil’s animals are for breeding, while the others are for eating.
Speaking of Phil’s business, let me segue into more of what he does.
Trowbridge Farms is a seed stock operation, which means that Phil produces bulls that are eventually purchased by cow-calf farms. Since I know that you readers are at a remedial level when it comes to farm terminology, I’ll explain what this all means:
Bulls are intact males that can reproduce (steers are castrated, and can not reproduce). A cow-calf farm is a place where a permanent herd of cows gets pregnant and gives birth to calves, which are later sold.
Just prior to my visit, Phil had completed his annual bull sale. He averaged about $3,975 per head. That’s pretty fantastic, considering that his closest competition was bringing in half of that amount.
Phil hosts a yearly heifer sale (female cattle that have never been pregnant) and a calf sale as well. In addition he engages in many sales outside of his annual events.
Phil also sells frozen bull semen and embryos with the use of vapor shippers. Cows can give birth about 10-12 times, on average, in their lifetime, before pregnancy becomes stressful on their body. But with embryonic science in play at Phil’s lab, he can get hundreds of fertilized eggs from his cows, freeze them, and use or sell them later. Given this aspect of the business, some of his cows have produced 500-600 offspring.
Almost all of Phil’s cows are surrogate mothers that were transplanted with embryos.
Timing is important when it comes to the cows. He schedules things around their super ovulation. First, CIDR (controlled internal drug release) devices are vaginally implanted – they’re like giant IUDs. This makes the cows think they’re ovulating, which allows him to synchronize all of their reproductive systems.
They get a follicle stimulation hormone, which produces lots of eggs. He then artificially inseminates them to fertilize the eggs with his bull semen, thereby creating embryos. The embryos are then flushed out and used or sold.
The process is just as intensive as human in vitro science. Phil’s daughter is an in vitro nurse and actually knows more than most doctors she works with, because she’s been doing this with cows for about 30 years.
In Phil’s operation, the bulls never touch a cow’s cervix. He usually puts embryos into cows fresh, as opposed to thawed from frozen, to increase the conception rate (15%-20% higher).
He sells a lot of frozen product to Argentina; about 40,000 units. But he makes more money from his US sales. This one bull, named Powder River, is like a legend around the farm. He’s spoiled and lazy, but he generates tons of product even at an old age – almost quadruple what other bulls can produce.
The frozen semen and embryos are stored in tubes or straws, and placed into liquid nitrogen holding tanks. In the event that Phil identifies a genetic abnormality, he will separate and retain the samples because many universities have expressed interest in studying them.
Phil’s customers are buying bulls, bull semen and embryos because they want specific genes to be expressed in their herds, and they know that Phil’s bulls produce some of the most desirable characteristics and embody superior genetics.
Customers look at these purchases as investments, like buying stocks. When they come to Phil, they usually don’t leave without buying.
Most of Phil’s animals are Angus. He has a few Hereford and cross breeds in the mix, but people know him for his superior quality Angus. Hereford cattle are notorious for suffering from pink eye in the summer months, so Phil has endeavored to breed his Hereford to have different eye traits so that his are less prone to pink eye.
He has blood tests performed on every animal at a cost of about $50 a pop. Two drops of blood are taken and sent out to a lab.
These tests assess 50,000 different genomic markers that express traits related to things like parentage, marbling, tenderness, udder structure, temperament, body build and residual feed intake, among others. In addition to testing for these traits, the DNA samples are also used for parent verification.
“So what does the average day look like for Phil?”
Well, like most farms, Trowbridge is a family affair. Phil’s wife Annie does the books in the morning before heading to the hospital, where she’s a nurse on the surgical floor.
Phil’s son PJ is vital at the farm. He holds a degree in animal science from SUNY Cobleskill, and is the farm mechanic for all of the equipment.
Phil is usually up by 6:00 am, feeding and checking on the animals, and, thereafter, making hay in the Spring and Summer.
In Winter, he gets up an hour earlier to check on the cows. He recently installed video equipment in the barns so that he doesn’t always need to check on the cows several times overnight to see if they’re calving.
Calving is done twice a year: In early winter (January, February and March), and in the Fall. Calving in January means he can cut nine months of the process in working with bulls. Phil is focused on both human and animal safety, and bulls can fight each other and tear stuff up. He likes to sell them off before they turn two years old, because the older they get, the harder they are to manage.
Right now Phil is playing host to 4H kids for the Summer. They’re learning about cattle, hogs and lambs. The kids pick the animals themselves; they’re purchased on loan and then sold in September.
The kids learn how to take care of the animals, they keep track of feed and vaccinations with spreadsheets, and they show the animals at the county fair.
Many cattlemen work second jobs and perform odd tasks like this in their community. In addition to hosting 4H kids, Phil was the president of the NY Beef Council (which sponsored my tour here), he helped develop the new Veterinary Feed Directive laws that just went into effect, he runs a college internship program, and he goes on speaking tours for the industry. His son PJ has a tow truck gig at night, and he does some construction work for a friend in Albany when needed.
As if all of that isn’t enough, the Trowbridges also have to be vigilant of trespassing. A few months back, someone broke into the donor cow and calf barn behind the lab, took a bunch of video, and posted it online. Fortunately the guerrilla “coverage” was very positive in nature, but someone could have gotten hurt. And now sheriffs have been coming around, warning Phil that kids are stealing some of the ice packs used in shipping to make meth. Crazy.
Needless to say, no one is ever bored at Trowbridge Farms. But no one is resting on their laurels either. Phil wants to pass the farm on to his children, and beyond to his grandchildren.
He purchased his first barn there 25 years ago when it was a brush pile. He built it up and installed all the fencing little by little at night after spending his day working at a nearby farm. Since then his operation has become scientifically cutting edge and well respected in the community. Articles have been written in trade magazines attesting to Trowbridge’s advances in the field.
Not only is Phil’s farm economically productive and a benefit to both the industry and the community, but Phil is ecologically responsible and an excellent steward of the land.
Phil builds lasting relationships with everyone he encounters on a regular basis. I had the pleasure of hearing a message that someone left on Phil’s voicemail, thanking him for all he does in the area. The people of Ghent respect what he does, and he respects the people of Ghent. He even throws a hot dog and hamburger cookout for the locals each year that draws hundreds.
When Phil was driving me around the community, he pointed out some of the other business that came and went. Old chicken farms, welding shops, mechanic shops, well drillers, orchards, artist warehouse studios, craft breweries… And even some newcomers like grass finished, no antibiotics beef producers.
Some of these folks will allow their animals to die because they refuse to treat their cattle with antibiotics. Phil understands and respects the “no antibiotics” niche markets that have developed, but he’s also a big believer in medicine and cares for the animals too much to let one die when an illness is perfectly treatable.
His words: “If that doesn’t bother you, then there’s something not right.” In my opinion, this kind of attitude is absolutely necessary in order to work with animals to any measure of lasting success. Phil is by no means one of a kind within the beef industry when it comes to this outlook on animals, but that’s no slight to him. His work is demonstrative of how great the practitioners of this business are at its core. He’s exemplary, and exemplary is common in this business. That’s a good thing.
But Phil’s love for the animals he works with is instantly revealed to all the moment he encounters them. They’re calm in his presence, and very trusting of him and other people – even strangers like me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The Trowbridge family name is celebrating 60 years in the cattle business this year. I’m very happy to have met Phil and his family, and I’m honored to put a spotlight on them for my readers.
The time has finally come for me to start slinging meat as opposed to just crushing it.
Over the last six years I’ve really fine-tuned my taste for high quality beef. I can almost pick out flavor notes like those freaks who test milk and wine, only I do it with beef. Blue cheese “funk” here, aroma of hazel nuts there, earthy mushrooms over yonder. You get the idea.
Writing restaurant reviews lead to writing recipes, and striving to replicate the steakhouse experience in my kitchen – even to the point of dry-aging beef at home.
My concern and respect for this amazing protein also fostered a desire to learn about the entire beef life cycle: from cow/calf operations to stockers and backgrounders; from corn farms to grazing ranches; from forage to feed; from fabrication floor to front of the case, and all the way back to the restaurant again. Start to finish. No stone left unturned. I’ve even addressed various nutritional and environmental concerns.
I’ve become an expert on steak. But photographing, eating and writing about beef was no longer satisfying me. It seemed that I hit a wall and was spinning my wheels. I wasn’t fulfilling the goals I had for this website. Or maybe my goals changed, because now I feel the need to offer these meaty experiences to you, rather than just tell you about them. I’m still going to review restaurants, highlight products and write informative articles about beef. But now there’s got to be more than just those things.
That’s why I’ve decided to open an online butcher shop. I’ve been working with an extremely high end “middle meats” company that has the resources and connections to buy out massive stocks of incredible prime, American Wagyu and even Japanese Kobe beef. They’ve got a multi-million dollar state of the art facility in the Bronx’s famous Hunt’s Point Cooperative Market with a crazy dry-aging room, a huge blast freezer and all the support they need from an incredibly skilled team of butchers.
All my steaks are cut to order, and can be fully customized. They’re individually vacuum sealed, wrapped in butcher paper and signed by a butcher before being shipped to you. Shipping, by the way, will be free and arrive at your door just 2-days after the order is cut.
I’m really excited about this. I’ve hand selected every cut that I’m offering, and I’ve even cooked up and tasted everything to verify that it’s something I’d want on my own plate. If you tend to agree with me on my steak review opinions, then you’re in good hands with anything you order from my butcher shop. You won’t be disappointed. Johnny Prime Meats will impress you.
My plan is to stock a few items that will always be available. For example, the best steak I’ve ever eaten is the American Wagyu strip.
I’ll be offering that all the time, along with a few prime dry-aged rib eye options and a prime dry-aged porterhouse.
But the bonus is that I’ll also be showcasing some rare and unique proteins that have limited supply and quantity. For example, I’ve got my hands on some really sweet dry-aged Duroc pork rib chops right now, as well as some dry-aged tenderloin tails for the grill. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll try to locate some dry-aged veal, American Wagyu hanger steaks, or lamb bacon.
And speaking of bacon, you’ll be able to add a pound of thick cut bacon to any order for just $10 at checkout. Because what steak meal at home is complete without that steakhouse style slab of thick cut bacon?
I hope you guys are interested. Check out the shop. Browse the offerings. And keep your eyes on my meat!