It’s a cold, dreary morning on the corner of a residential street in east Williamsburg. Inside a two-story brick building, Gennaro “Jerry” Virtuoso is ripping apart day old bread that has been soaked in water. These bread crumbs are then added to a large bowl of ground and cut beef that, after a stint in a 500-degree over, will become some of the best meatballs this side of New England.
Tan and tall with darker-than-dark black hair, Virtuoso is owner and proprietor of Lorimer Market (620 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn; 718-389-2691), an Italian market that specializes in items like fresh cut beef, poultry, and prepared foods. The small store — with its three large deli cases and minimal decoration — looks like a place that’s been here for decades; in reality, this location opened in 2005. But Lorimer Market (originally Lorimer Meat Market) has really been around for more than 30 years; it was opened by Virtuoso’s father, Nicola, and used to be located just across the street.
Virtuoso grew up in the store and learned the business from a young age. He eventually attended culinary school, and then he his way through top kitchens around Manhattan and became a house butcher at the Waldorf Astoria. When he took over the family business, “I wanted the store to be a mix of something traditional and something new,” he says. ” I wanted to take my experiences and give people great quality food.” You see that today when a regular picks up avocado salad alongside four pork chops.
Virtuoso’s father is still around: “I come into the store whenever I feel like it,” says Nicola, who lives just down the street. He can often be found working beside his son, doling out advice on how to cook a rib eye on the grill or under a broiler.
Around noon, the lunch crowd starts forming inside the store, ordering meatball subs and the well-known San Gennaro sandwich, which is composed of homemade sausage with onions and peppers. “We want people to feel a part of something when they come here,” says Virtuoso. Lorimer Market’s loyal customer base of both old and young patrons suggests that he’s succeeding.