Good Eats: Stanley’s Prime Meat Market
Update Jan. 3, 2015: This business has closed.
To describe Stanley’s Prime Meat Market as a step back in time might sound like a cliché in describing a traditional food and provisions shop, but if the but (“shoe” in Polish) fits wear it, right?
Despite the name, which suggests that it’s a butcher shop, (they do sell some raw cuts of beef, chicken and pork if you ask) Stanley’s is an old school, completely-from-scratch, Polish provisioner and edibles emporium. Stan’s sits proudly on the corner of Central Avenue and South Street, door wide open, American and Polish flags flapping side by side, and an honest showcase window full of ready-to-eat, home made Polish specialties. If you’ve got any sort of eye (or nose) for homey-looking trays of stuffed cabbage, mushroom salad, poppy seed cakes, or the intoxicating aroma of the mingling of pork and wood smoke wafting over the street, you’ll find yourself stopping on the sidewalk and stepping through the threshold of this local gem.
Owned by Krystyna Godowska and her daughter Agnieszka Kielianski, with frequent assistance by Krystyna’s grandchildren, Stan’s is the consummate family business. Mrs. Godowska has been the proprietor since 1998, but the history of the location reaches much deeper into Jersey City’s gastronomic past. Mrs. Godowska took over operation of the shop from Stanley, also Polish, who started the business in the 1950s to serve the once teeming Polish community in The Heights. But the history of the spot doesn’t begin there. Prior to Stan’s ownership, the place had been built, and was long operated as a butcher and delicatessen by German immigrants in the early years of the 20th century; much of the interior, including the white porcelain meat case, not to mention the fully wood-lined smokehouse, was built by these original owners.
Arriving in the United States in 1987 from a small town in southern Poland near Krakow, Mrs. Godowska worked in other Polish food shops where she learned the trade. But with her strong immigrant ambition and her love of cooking, she saw the continuing need in the neighborhood to serve top-quality traditional Polish fare to single working men who couldn’t cook for themselves, as well as to busy families looking for a night off from cooking. And after a taste, the next time you come in (and you will be back), you’ll thank her too.
Though Mrs. Godowska makes – on premises mind you – over a dozen types of “Krakowska”-style cold cuts, as well as pates, kishkas (blood and buckwheat sausages) hams, soups, stews, salads, pickles, and apple and cheese cakes, she also stocks a bevy of breads, grains, noodles, sauces, sweets and even toiletries from other Polish and Eastern European suppliers in Elizabeth, Passaic, and Green Point, Brooklyn. As relatively small as this place is, they always seem to have what you need.
You can’t go wrong with anything that you find at Stan’s, but it’s clear from talking to Krystyna for just five minutes that she is most proud of her pierogi and her kielbasa..Mrs. Godowska sells over 100 dozen savory potato/cheese, sauerkraut/mushroom, and sweet, fruit-filled pierogi a week, as well as a whopping 500 pounds of kielbasa over the same stretch. Krystyna is adamant about telling anyone who asks that she only uses the best ingredients to make the many styles and gauges of sausages that tantalizingly festoon the shop. They are made with only fresh (never frozen) pork cut exclusively from the ham, garlic, salt, and pepper. Of course she omitted one or two secret ingredients with a warm laugh that reflects her personality as well as the way she runs her business. She proudly states that no corners are cut in making her sausages. She uses only split-log cherry wood to produce her smoke – no liquid smoke sprays here. It takes 1 ½ hours in the smokehouse to dry the kielbasa, followed by 2 ½ hours to smoke the meat, and then another 2 hours to fully cook them through, which means that they can be eaten directly from the white butcher’s paper they wrap them in, and if you pick up a couple (they’re typically sold in pairs), you will not get home with the amount you bought. Buy more than you think you need, because if for some (inexplicable) reason you don’t finish them that day, they reliably dry into salami-like sticks of goodness that I often refer to as “meat candy.”
Roughly 50% of Mrs. Godowska’s current clientele is Polish, but she serves lots of Ukrainian, Russian, Hungarian, German, Latino, Italian immigrants, and ever more native-born American customers – “And Canadian too” – piped up a young gentleman standing next to me, across from that pristine 100 year old white porcelain display cooler. And though Mrs. Godowska and daughter are always busier than ice cream vendors in a heat wave, they have dreams of some day buying their own building – something bigger that can accommodate a few tables to serve sandwiches, or a slice of cake with a cup of tea or coffee, and maybe something with a few parking spaces too. With this kind of food and warm service, they’ve got a great shot at making this dream a reality.
Stanley’s Prime Meat Market is located at 425 Central Ave., 201.795.0558.
Editor’s note: JCI is happy to welcome Tom Ciocco as one of our newest writers and we look forward to reading more from him!
Photos by Tom Ciocco