"Everyone's going to assume you know the drill, so just be careful and watch for sides of beef as they roll by on the overhead track."
The journey actually started a few weeks ago, when my guide on this recent early morning adventure, Adam Perry Lang (Daisy May's BBQ and Robert's Steakhouse), floated the idea of dragging me out to Hunts Point at 1:30 a.m. as part of a multipart series of burger posts—"burgers, from butcher to table," as I came to think of it.
Inside I met 79-year-old Sam Solasz, patriarch and founder of the Master Purveyors dynasty. Stout and still spry after 50 years on the job, Solasz was supervising the grinders and helping bag 10-pound bags of prime ground chuck. Each bag was marked with numbers that hinted at the final destination—codes, as many of Solasz's customers want to keep their supplier a secret for competitive advantage. I can say only as much as that some of the most renown burger slingers in New York City purchase their meat from Master Purveyors.
Unfortunately, the crew was a bit concerned about photographing the grinding, so I'm unable to provide visuals. Their skittishness was understandable, but it's not like there was anything untoward going on. In fact, the whole operation was remarkably clean, with two workers feeding carefully chosen cuts of chuck into the top chute of an enormous grinder. The grinder emptied into a large specially designed stainless steel trough that was manufactured so as to be seamless, also mandated by the feds (seams leave grooves in which stray meat can hide when the troughs are cleaned). After the first grind, the workers used a stainless steel shovel (also seamless) to move the pounds and pounds of beef back to the feed chute for a second, and later third, grind. It was almost surreal to see the men transfer beef from trough to chute as if they were shoveling snow, but when you're dealing with the amount of meat I witnessed, there's no other way.
Sam Solasz and his sons (Scott Solasz and Mark Solasz) were less concerned about me taking pictures in the dry-aging room, and it's here that Lang, who procures the steaks for Robert's Steakhouse from Master Purveyors, became especially animated, pointing out the differences among the shelves of meat ("Look at the marbling on this one! You've got to take a picture of that"; the resulting photo is at right).
All work is done late at night and into the early morning. Example: A refrigerated truck with several sides of prime beef came in around 3 a.m., prompting an employee to set up an elaborate system of temporary rails to ferry the sides from the truck to the permanent overhead rail system that snakes among the various parts of the facility.
By the time we left, around 4 a.m., the Solaszs and crew were wrapping up work, and I was beginning to think about getting some shuteye before beginning my own workday only hours away, but only after I toyed with photos and uploaded them for you to take a gander at: