Rummage through my dresser drawer’s crumpled sweatshirts and faded, crotch-frayed jeans, and you’ll find a sparkly fabric rectangle that I affectionately call my “meat flag.”
It displays a picture of me grinning with serial-killer glee, hoisting taut, pink kielbasa above my head like a trophy—a picture taken seconds before I swung the greasy lengths like nunchaku onto a glowing-red grill.
“Grilling might be the only time you’re truly happy,” my girlfriend says.
“Except when I’m drunk,” I add.
Sweet lollipops, I love to grill. Invite me to your barbecue and I’ll liberate spatulas from lesser men and dole out my medium-rare rapture. The secret is grade-A meat, a mixture of deliciousness and minimum expenditure that requires a field trip to distant Brooklyn. For my Memorial Day weekend provisionary run, I enlist my pedaling pal Aaron.
“We’re heading to meat heaven,” I say, as we aim toward the Atlantic Ocean. “But first, we must snack.” Upon entering Russian Brighton Beach, we pit stop at M&I International (249 Brighton Beach Ave. betw. Brighton 1st St. & Brighton 1st Pl., B’klyn; 718-615-1011). M&I’s a bastion of smoked fish, pickled vegetables and pierozki ($1.25 apiece). They’re deep-fried oblong pies packed with cabbage, potatoes or “meat.” Which meat?
“Meat,” says a thick woman wearing a hairnet, manning the sidewalk-ordering window.
“Delicious,” I say, as she fills a plastic bag with pies. We bring them to the boardwalk.
“Should they be so…greasy?” Aaron asks. Oil drips onto wooden planks.
“Just eat,” I say, as we chomp in unison.
“It’s dessert and dinner all in one,” Aaron proclaims—funnel cake with a meat chaser.
“And you’re complaining?”
“Not at all,” he says, fingers glistening in the sun.
Covered with a greasy sheen, we continue our trek to my grilling secret: Coney Island’s Major Prime Meat Market (1516 Mermaid Ave. betw. W. 15th & W. 16th Sts, B’klyn, 718-372-8091). I first found Major four summers prior when, following a lobster-red beach afternoon, I stumbled into the sawdust-strewn shop. I was intrigued by Major’s shop window filled with vintage Coney photos, but my heart swooned for silver-haired proprietor Jimmy Prince, a fixture since 1949.
“You looking for a steak?” he asked, immaculate in a button-down and tie.
“I’ll be right back.” He sliced me a hefty sirloin beaut, marbled with marvelous fat.
“Cook it right, and you won’t find a finer steak,” he said.
I did. He was right. I’ve returned to Major again and again, whenever my meat lust demanded satiation. Like today.
“I’ll be with you in a moment, fellas,” Prince says, as we swing inside. Prince smiles—he’s always smiling—and shuffles into his walk-in cooler, where his meat (prime only, thank you) dry-ages and develops a dense, concentrated flavor. We sway to big-band music and examine canned goods and produce until Prince reappears, hands on hips.
“I need burgers,” I announce.
“We can do that,” Prince says. He lugs an antiquated grinder into the walk-in. He returns with a fat, red lump of fresh-ground beef, which he hand-stamps into patties with a steel contraption. He displays the thick, third-pound patty like a parent proud of his son’s straight-A report card.
“That’s beautiful,” I say, nearly choking up. I want to hug him. He’s the butchering grandpa I never had and never knew I needed.
“I only use prime chuck. It’s the perfect mix for juicy burgers.”
“Ten, please,” I say, wiping away a drop of drool. Prince grinds and presses, presses and grinds, and passes us our patties (about $4 a pound). They’re separated by wax paper and placed into brown paper bags, lovingly folded like a child’s school lunch.
“Have a safe ride, fellas,” Prince says paternally, as we head to the burgers’ final destination: Bushwick Country Club (618 Grand St. at Leonard St., B’klyn, 718-388-2114). This Williamsburg dive offers two-for-one happy hour (until 8 p.m.), a six-course miniature golf course and grills.
They’re hot. They’re primed. They sizzle as I gently lob my patties onto the grill, like I’m launching the world’s costliest Frisbee. I let grill stripes accrue, then I flip the burgers—just once, and no pressing out precious moisture. Their smoke is a Siren’s lure.“Can I have one?” a random bar-goer queries.
“Of course not,” I reply, sliding burger onto bun, a juicy torrent staining the white bread brown. Ketchup? Mustard? No need. I bite, and rich, mineral-y, meaty goodness gushes over my chipped incisors and craggy mandibles. Grill season, I think, as I cram my maw with flesh tender and flavorful enough to convert a vegetarian, has officially begun.