We’re in the food season, I mean the holiday season, so my thoughts have turned to Mister Brisket. I have been doing business with him for 20 years. In fact, some of my most in-depth conversations about world politics and life have been with him when I’m ordering a “side of chicken.”
Right now I’m in the market for a turkey. So I went to see him in his lair, a storefront on Taylor Road near Cedar.
Mister Brisket delivers to your door. Actually, Hank Kornblut, his stepson, does. But three years ago, they launched a counter service—the centerpiece of which is a hot corned beef sandwich. If you have any history with corned beef—mine goes back to going to the deli with my Dad—you find the aroma intoxicating. I struggle throughout our talk to hold off ordering a sandwich until I’m done with the conversation.
Hank is manning the counter. Some customers are ordering just a sandwich, which is large enough to hold you for at least a day and a half. Others are picking up large orders for events or get-togethers.
Mister Brisket’s real name is Sanford Herskovitz and he holds a Ph.D in psychology. He has been on Taylor Road for 32 years, when he bought the business from butcher Max Greenfield. He is a purveyor of prime meat, poultry and fish.
The counter was Hank’s innovation. He has also computerized the business and sends out chatty informative e-mails. “Hank has taken over," said Mister Brisket, now 71. “I come in, I get yelled at and I go home at 3 o’clock.”
“On Tuesday we’ll have lettuce and tomato!” he says in disbelief. “We are not a health food store! The customers ask for it, so Hank is accommodating. I fought him tooth and nail!” Hank smiles.
I comment on the steady flow of customers. “Schlug sich in mole!” he says in Yiddish, meaning "you should hit yourself in the mouth!" to ward off the bad luck that can come from acknowledging a good.
Mister Brisket has had his own innovations, such as his brisket recipe, of course. “This damn thing got me on national TV!” If you try it, he may tell you to bring your cooked brisket in for him to slice. Some find him intimidating. I do what I’m told.
His eight-page instructions for roasting a turkey begin with: “PLEASE READ THIS RECIPE IN ITS ENTIRETY BEFORE BEGINNING. This will allow you time to choose an appropriate Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant if this looks like too much work (as these are the only ones open on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days).”
For years he has been in the trenches of the food/fat/nutrition wars. He survived the no-red-meat phase. “Steak is back and carb is the enemy,” he said. “The latest is grass-fed beef.” He evaluates products the way any Ph.D would. Ask and you will learn, in detail, about taste, marbling, trim and what livestock are fed. He has been to Kobe, Japan, to eat Kobe beef. Now it’s Piedmont cattle. “Frances [his wife] and I went to Italy to learn about the Piedmont cattle. They are fed hay, straw, oats, barley, grass and corn. The flavor is great. Grass-fed is a hoax!”
He’s also had to contend with new grocery stores, high-end and bulk. But he has loyal customers. And he supplies Zack Bruell’s four restaurants.
You’re probably wondering about that “side of chicken” I mentioned. “I didn’t have a scale and they came in packages of 20,” he said. “So you had to order the whole package. Hank changed that, too. Now you can get one chicken breast if you want.” If you buy his skinless and boneless chicken, you can get the bones for $1 a pound. I would put the flavor up against any chicken broth anywhere and it will cure practically anything.
“So you’re the next Mister Brisket?” I say to Hank after I put in my order. “We are all Mister Brisket,” he said judiciously, smiling again.
Long live Misters Brisket!
Eleanor Mallet's column, "A Heights Observer," explores the nooks and crannies in the Heights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.