Robb Report Vices

A Cut Above

There once was a time when the foods that we loved loved us back. It was a time devoid of an unhealthy obsession with nutritional information, where a thick cut of meat was revered rather than scrutinized. It was an era in U.S. history when every town had a dependable, independent butcher who was ready to wrap up a bone-in rib-eye, a porterhouse, or a strip steak and send it off with a handshake, a smile, and a wave. The Lobel family ran one of New York City’s many specialty butcher shops during that era, and over the years much of their competition has withered away. Lobel’s of New York still remains, however, and today it offers nationwide overnight shipping—a service that delivers fresh cuts of carefully selected meats along with a reminder of the way things used to be.

“There’s nothing like cooking a fresh steak,” says Stanley Lobel, a co-owner, who adds that the company’s meats, once packaged and shipped, can last up to seven days in the refrigerator before needing to be frozen. “We age our meat four to six weeks, which increases the tenderness and the flavor,” he continues.

Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Lobel was a kid, he used to tag along with his father on weekly trips to the market. At that time, the Lobels needed to visit only a couple of vendors to get everything that their customers would want. These days, Lobel must visit as many as 30 wholesalers to cherry-pick the best pieces of meat. What defines a top piece of meat, you ask? According to Lobel, it should have a nice grain to it; it should be pink—not red; the outside layer of fat should be bright white; and the bone should have a reddish tint. Oh, and the animal it comes from should be corn fed. Yes, that’s right: In this age of grass-fed obsession, we’re taking up the cause of corn-fed steaks.

Ninety-nine percent of the beef that Lobel buys comes from the Corn Belt, which increases the likelihood that that cattle was fed corn, not grass. Lobel acknowledges that corn-fed beef is not as healthy as the grass-fed alternative, but he doesn’t hesitate to point out that it tastes much better. The 77-year-old purveyor of fine meats isn’t suggesting that you should make corn-fed beef the new foundation of your diet, but he also doesn’t believe that it should be shunned. “You have to make a decision,” he says. “You can choose to eat a lousy steak three times a week, or you can really enjoy one once a week. If you want something that’s really good, there’s no getting way from the fact that a corn-fed steak is great.”