Joshua Applestone is a foul-mouthed former vegan who wants you to think before you eat meat.
America’s hottest butcher is a foul-mouthed former vegan who wants you to think before you eat meat.
by Josh Eells
It’s a cold Tuesday morning, the week before Thanksgiving, and Josh Applestone is feeling annoyed. He’s working the counter at Fleisher’s, the Brooklyn butcher shop he runs with his wife, Jessica, when in walk a couple of twentysomethings — the guy bespectacled and bearded, the girl skinny-jeaned and cute — or, as Applestone puts it, “these two fucking idiot hipsters.” The two of them probably wouldn’t know a heifer from a ham hock, but they want to smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving, and they want Applestone to tell them how to do it.
“So this is your girlfriend?” Applestone asks the guy.
“Uh, lady friend,” he says.
“Sure, whatever. And this meal — both your parents will be there?”
“Meeting each other for the first time?”
“Do yourself a favor,” Applestone says. “Do not try to smoke this shit on the fire escape of your fucking 500-square-foot apartment. Don’t get fancy. Just put it in the oven, turn it on, and roast it. I’m not trying to be a dick. It’s just a lot of stress.”
The couple exchange a look.
“But if you insist on doing it, at least come back and tell me what a disaster it was.” He smiles. “You owe me that much.”
Josh Applestone knows more about meat than you. With his Hulk Hogan mustache, lumbar-length ponytail, and tight black T-shirt that reads “bacon gives me a lardon,” he’s the closest thing high-end butchery has to a rock star. His biceps are adorned with tattoos of meat-to-be — a chicken, a steer, a pig, a lamb — and his e-mail handle is icarveanimals. He’s trained butchers like Julie Powell (of Julie & Julia fame) and supplied meat to such uber-chefs as Dan Barber and Thomas Keller. It’s not hard to imagine him with his own reality show. All in all, not too bad for a guy who spent nearly 17 years as a vegan. (More on that later.)
Applestone knows he can come off as — in his own words — “condescending,” “an arrogant asshole,” or “kind of a dick.” At the same time, that’s part of his appeal. You go to Fleisher’s for the same reason you hire a trainer: (a) it’s good for you, and (b) sometimes it’s fun to get a little beaten up. “People want someone to guide them,” he says. “You don’t want to be like, ‘You’re obviously an idiot and you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ But . . .”
Over the past few years, there’s been a movement steadily building in this country of something that, for lack of a better term, could be called “The Responsible Carnivore.” Think grass-fed, hormone-free, locally sourced, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s in keeping with the back-to-the-roots mentality that’s spawned the current vogue for everything from $40 moonshine to artisanally sharpened pencils; and Fleisher’s, founded by the Applestones in 2004, is at the head of the pack. Their Brooklyn shop, on a bustling block in the upper-class-boho Park Slope neighborhood, is a self-consciously styled throwback: distressed tin ceilings, stroller parking behind a velvet rope, a chicken rotisserie in the window spinning like a delectable Ferris wheel. (Applestone calls it “chicken TV.”) It’s less a butcher shop than a kind of curated meat boutique.
This morning, tempers are running a little short. They’ve got 800 turkeys to get out the door in the next six days, plus the air conditioner is broken and Applestone can’t find his cellphone. He turns to his manager, another ex-vegetarian named Jason Fox.
“Spices and cryo bags are an absolute priority today,” Applestone says. “Unbelievably important. Slipped by us. Another fucking mop-up. Also, we need to get the ingredients for the turkey stuffing immediately. We have a huge bottleneck with the potpies — we really need to start fucking concentrating on figuring out what the fuck we’re doing about assembling the goddamn motherfuckers. We’re out of meat loafs, we’re out of meatballs. And we gotta talk about herbs. And hickory. And I need to know about the egg situation. And did I mention ‘fuck you’?”
“Yes,” Jason smiles.
“All right. Now give me your phone. I want to play some music.”
As the opening riff to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” echoes through the shop, Applestone slips on his chain-mail apron and buckles the scabbard around his waist. He looks like the villain from the next installment of Saw.
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