If you’re wondering why the corner of 78th and Amsterdam smells like chicken fat, you have April Bloomfield to thank. The Upper West Side can now join the growing list of neighborhoods able to claim its own serious butcher shop: White Gold Butchers.
How did these New Yorkers hit the jackpot? One of Bloomfield’s partners in the venture, butcher Erika Nakamura, just happened to go to high school around the corner from the shop and she still lives close. When she, Bloomfield, restauranteur Ken Friedman and fellow butcher Jocelyn Guest were looking to set up a retail butchers shop and restaurant combo, the Upper West Side fit the bill.
“We wanted to go where there was a sense of community and yet that still needed something like this,” said Bloomfield. The trio wanted to serve people who really cook, and early indications are they chose correctly. Sales on day one dashed any assumptions that New Yorkers want “tender” quick-cooking cuts. Observing what was left in the case just before closing time (New York strips, rib eyes and fillets), Bloomfield said, “People want cold-weather cuts.” Indeed on opening day, it was mostly families stumbling into the corner store with kids pressing up against the case and parents asking questions in preparation for weekend slow-cooks and roasts.
“Jocelyn and Erika are here to guide them and not in a pretentious or overbearing way. It’s in a humble way because they want to share,” Bloomfield said.
Guest and Nakamura have for the last few years, been working to bring a more whole-animal approach to Bloomfield’s other restaurants, notably Salvation Burger on the Upper East Side where they are famous for grinding parts of the cow usually sold for upward of $20 per pound, which is sacrilege for some. Now they are looking to help people through their own experiments. Plus, having a butcher shop inside the restaurant—though it’s more the other way around—is a dream scenario for a chef with Bloomfield’s notorious exacting standards.
As Nakamura described, “[Bloomfield] gets to move away from working with distributors and not having quite the same amount of control as she would with us. She can look over her shoulder and say, ‘Oh, that’s you grinding my meat! I like this, tell me about that, or I don’t like this.’”
The team hopes that the retail sales and the restaurant menu can work together to further hammer home the whole animal ethos.
That ethos of course has to extend to the sourcing as well. Though grassfed beef and lamb and pastured pork are fairly recognized in the mainstream at this point, poultry quality is still a hotly contested topic and a tough nut to crack, especially at retail as consumers are so used to mass production, large broilers with milky white meat. Nakamura, who opened Los Angeles’s first sustainable butcher Lindy and Grundy, has sold her share of boneless skinless chicken breasts. She says the search for the right chicken, with every element from pasture-raising, good genetics to proper processing, took some time.
“We took a long time didn’t we?” said Bloomfield, “We were clucking by the time we found it.”
They landed on a heritage breed from Snow Dance Farm in the Catskills and requested a slightly smaller bird than convention dictates, with the rotisserie in mind.
“Because they’re smaller they cook evenly—ya know sometimes you get a heritage chicken and they get a bit stringy? These are not like that at all. These are tender, moist, juicy, and the skin gets super crispy. I’m sure by the time we finish today, we’re gonna have two pints of fat just from the chickens.” It’s the first thing you smell when you walk in the door and wafts into the room every time the glass doors of the rotisserie open.
The Snow Dance chickens are fed marigolds, which adds to the flavor of the meat and gives the bird a slightly golden hue.
On the restaurant side, the menu shows that Bloomfield is keeping things simple and seasonal.
Breakfast and lunch are sandwiches and pastries available for service and takeout. Dinner is small plates and fairly simple meat and veg pairings with warm flavors like dukka, caraway and sage. A couple of uncommon cuts like beef heart and tongue are on the changeable dinner menu as well. And the digs are fairly casual, as if whole families could come and stay all day. According to Bloomfield, “Nobody else is doing anything like this. It’s kind of a unique concept. You can go buy some stuff, it’s cooked right there. You can get something to nibble on while you wait for Jocelyn and Erika to cut your meat.”
As table service gets into a groove, some star dishes are sure to pop, but for now the charcuterie and sausage cases are what makes White Gold worth the trip for nonlocals. Many of the more famous recipes of both chef and butchers modestly wait in the case.
“You’re getting some big Bloomfield winners in here … a lot of the same things that you might find in her restaurants,” said Nakamura.
Bloomfield’s lauded chicken liver parfait, burger mixes from Salvation Burger, along with housemade sausages, smoked brats, terrines and charcuterie are all on hand. The production space including a cave for charcuterie in the basement has identical square footage as the service space above and everything is made in-house.
Without making it through the entire menu yet, the chicken apricot sausages and house ham are not to be missed. Since White Gold checks the boxes of neighborhood family restaurant, grab-and-go takeout and full-service butcher, the food stock on the Upper West Side seems to be rising just as quickly as the rent with just this one opening.
Photos courtesy of White Gold Butchers.