Meat Your Neighbor: Jake of Dickson's Farmstand
"Most people have never seen a pig head until they walk into my store," Jake Dickson says thoughtfully as he mans his rooftop grill. The Related resident and founder of the Chelsea Market butcher shop Dickson's Farmstand Meats contemplates the three fat pieces of meat sizzling before him – a Denver Steak, a rib eye steak and a pork chop – as thick smoke wafts off into the clear October air and melts into the city skyline.
"We purposefully put pig heads in our display case, because it’s a visceral reminder that this is an animal. It’s not just something that comes from a package or a box, it actually was an animal that was raised and killed so we could consume it. And we should think about those things."
Dickson spends a lot of time thinking about "those things." Namely, where the meat he sells comes from, how the animal lived when it was alive, and how he can make everyone who comes into his store care about these things, too. Dickson's Farmstand Meats is a whole animal butcher, meaning that almost every element of the animal is sold there – "from nose-to-tail” – and all of the meat is guaranteed to be free of all the evil-sounding words that infiltrate most of our food (it has no hormones, prophylactic antibiotics, animal by-products - and is always 100 percent feedlot/CAFO free).
Apparently, it’s a formula that works; the store recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary in October and is about to open a brand-new location downstairs in Chelsea Market this month that is twice the size of its current space.
They need the room. Lines for the shop’s famous hot dogs typically go out the door, creating a cramped and uncomfortable experience for those trying to order from the butcher shop.
"If you come for a steak during our lunch rush, I know it's not the greatest retail experience." Dickson says.
In the new space, the prepared food station will be further separated from the butcher shop, allowing both sides of the business to run more smoothly. And Dickson is adding a new cook-to-order program, meaning that customers can buy their steak and the store will cook it for them perfectly right there and then.
“I have meat that no steakhouse in New York City can afford, Peter Luger’s can’t afford my meat. It’s local, we’re aging it, it’s gorgeous,” he says, noting that it’s not possible to sell meat of the high quality he does in a wholesale environment, “I’m pairing the best meat with the best equipment, so theoretically, we should be able to serve the best steak in New York for roughly half the price of a high-end steakhouse. You won’t have a white tablecloth though.”
The butcher portion of the store will be opening on November 18, right before Thanksgiving, which is Dickson’s busiest time of the year. The store sells around 900 turkeys – fresh, smoked or roasted – which all come from the same farm in Pennsylvania and are slaughtered in New Jersey only a week before Thanksgiving (supermarket turkeys, on the other hand, can be slaughtered and frozen up to six months before). For the first time this year, they’ll also be selling 16 hot turkeys that can be picked up on Thanksgiving Day.
In general, Dickson is mostly pescatarian at home, as he eats enough meat during the day at the store. He does appreciate his building’s rooftop grill and loves to cook up there during the warmer months (“how could you not?” he says, gesturing to the magnificent skyline views).
For those who do want to make meat at home, Dickson recommends being creative about how you cook it, like roasting a steak in the oven, for instance, instead of cooking it on the stovetop and setting off sensitive fire alarms. “Even though I know that’s not the ideal way to do it, it comes out great, it’s still delicious and I don’t have to deal with the mess and the smell.”
Meat novices should consider buying fattier cuts of meat like a rib eye, which are more forgiving if you overcook them slightly. And don’t overdo it with the preparations; Dickson says salt and pepper are all you really need to put on meat before you cook it, with a nice chimichurri or salsa verde on the side afterward.
“I like my first bite of meat to just be meat,” he says, “I want it to taste like what it is.”
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