Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Must Visit: Honest Chops

Photo: Sara Ashtaryeh

Like most great ideas, Honest Chops, a new Halal butcher in the East Village, was born out of necessity. Store owner Anas Hassan couldn’t find a high quality, ethical butcher that followed Muslim religious practices. So last month, he opened Honest Chops in a basement space on East 9th Street.

The block of 9th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues, full of high-end boutiques, jewelry shops and an espresso bar, is an odd place for a butcher shop. Honest Chops was actually a jewelry store before Anas and his team moved in. 

A Halal butcher is new territory for the East Village -- Anas claims to be the only one in the neighborhood, which has been historically Jewish.

Back in the mid 1800s, the area was settled by Jewish, Italian and German immigrants. Over the centuries, it's gone through several reinventions. In the '70s and '80s, it was home to punk musicians and performance artists. Now, the East Village is trendy, home to multi-million dollar real estate, restaurants, bars and shopping. 

Hip Village-dwellers are the main customers at Honest Chops, according to Head Butcher Rex, but in a way Halal meat harkens back to lower Manhattan's Jewish history. Halal and Kosher are pretty similar (you can read about them both in detail here). Observant Muslims and Jews don't eat pork. Both require animals to be blessed and slaughtered humanely. 

The strict Halal rules are part of the ethical philosophy behind Honest Chops. Animals must be fed a natural, all-vegetarian diet. The beef is grass fed -- although the steers eat grain for the last month or two of their lives to achieve the ideal fatty marbling in the beef. Anas also promises that none of the animals were fed antibiotics or growth hormones.

Honest Chops is a whole meat butcher, which means Anas buys the whole carcass from farms within 100 miles of the store. Butchering is done on-site to provide the freshest possible product and avoid waste. 

Photo: Amanda Waldroupe

Since Anas buys his whole meat from a small group of local suppliers, the products vary depending on the day. When I visited Honest Chops, there were chicken breasts, sirloin steaks, and four kinds of sausages, to name a few. Anas is still looking for a lamb supplier who complies with the store’s religious and ethical practices. 

Enough about the story behind Honest Chops. Here's the fun part: testing the product! 

I came home with bavette, which is a sirloin tip, and spicy beef sausages, based on recommendations from Rex. The total for two bavettes (like two small steaks) and six sausages was $16, much less than I anticipated. 

Rex gave me a cooking lesson, suggesting I wait for the bavette to reach room temperature, salt it to keep the moisture inside, and then sear it in a very hot pan. I followed his instructions and the bavette turned out perfectly. I will definitely be going back to Honest Chops.  

Honest Chops, 319 East Ninth St., between First and Second Aves.; open Sat to Thu 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.