I don't know if I would have survived being young and broke in Brooklyn without Graham Ave. Meats & Deli. For just six or seven dollars, the 30-year-old, Italian-owned establishment would serve you the biggest sandwich you'd ever seen, stuffed to bursting with all manner of imported cheeses, cured meats, and grandmotherly secret sauces. The signature sandwich, funnily enough, was called the Godfather—an architectural triumph of provolone, mortadella, capiciola, and roasted peppers of both the spicy and sweet variety—and weeks when I was worried about not having enough money to tide me over until my next paycheck, it was big enough to last me for both lunch and dinner.
For the six odd years I was a regular there, Graham Ave. Meats was always the de facto warm weather lunch spot for pretty much every starving young musician and writer and show promoter in the neighborhood I knew: you'd wait about 15 minutes on line, because their subs take time and love to make, then walk over and eat them in the park. "The Godfather brought my peers and I to our knees," Edwin White, one-half of the local psych rock band Tonstartssbandht, told The FADER. "It was the standard meal ration before each drive up to Montreal, and the car would stink for days with GAM's spiced goodness. We were among many of its unwittingly perfumed disciples."
Though the sandwiches were dependably amazing, Graham Ave. Meats was also charmingly unpredictable; sometimes you'd show up during normal business hours and it would just be closed, presumably for shadowy reasons. Owner Michael "The Butcher" Virtuoso, who passed away a couple years ago, is rumored to have had ties to the Bonanno organized crime family; according to the New York Daily News, he once pled guilty to "shaking down former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's limousine driver in the store's walk-in meat locker." In 2011, after one such shutdown, the police uncovered a rolodex at Graham Ave. Meats containing the names and numbers of pretty much everyone in the mob.
Partly because of these eccentricities, Graham Ave. Meats always felt like one of the last outposts of old Williamsburg on the rapidly gentrifying Graham Avenue of the past half-decade. Like Grande Monuments—the headstone shop a couple blocks down that sold fresh-baked Italian bread, in addition to limestone memorials—it was one of the few places that seemed like it would always be there, no matter what. Sadly, in a city like New York, there seems to be no such thing as "forever." As of late last year, the Grande Monuments storefront has passed over to a tattoo parlor called Rose Tattoo; and this week, New York Eater is reporting that Graham Ave. Meats has finally gone dark for good. In typically mysterious fashion, the business shuttered quietly, without so much as an announcement on the window; we'll probably never know what happened, because they've gone ahead and disconnected their phone.
"Graham Avenue Meats was a throwback to the Italian market/delis I knew growing up on the south shore of Long Island," Josh Kolenik, a member of the Brooklyn-based electronic group Small Black, told The FADER via email. "The service was curt and gruff, the way you want it when you're ordering a chicken cutlet parmigiana hero or a meatball sub—except these tough guys put in a lot more time and craft with the sandwiches than any other place I can remember. There often was a loud commotion in Italian happening in the back room, and I often thought of taking them up on their Bachelor Butcher Special, which was a specific selection of prepared meats designed to feed a hungry lonesome man for week. But the quantity was too intimidating. I'll miss the decadence of these subs amid our world of artisanal everything."
As a closing note, Kolenik reminded us of the fact that Graham Ave. Meats wasn't just a take-out shop: "Also, I do very much regret never taking advantage of the the lone rolling office chair in the corner by the fridge that functioned as the dining area."