Remember back in the day when you would go to the local supermarket and run into the butcher? You would tell him what cut of meat you wanted which would eventually lead to an engaging conversation. You continue to go to that butcher. As time goes on, he will know what cut of meat you want before you even walk in the door. He would know the names of your kids and what sports they played. A wholesome relationship that played a pivotal role in how we sourced our meat, now lost. Will that connection between the butcher and the customer ever make a return? The Butcher’s Block in Long Branch, New Jersey is doing just that.
The minute you set foot in the parking lot, you can already sense the savory aroma of the wood-firing meat. The smell is so strong you can already feel your taste buds watering for what’s to come. Walking in, you are instantly transformed into a rustic and industrial atmosphere providing a warm and cozy vibe. A unique combination that makes you feel at home.
You are introduced to a menu featuring appetizers or the “pregame,” soups and salads, charcuterie, sides, seafood, and of course, the meat. When ordering meat, you are taken to the butcher shop to choose your dinner. This is not your average, “order a steak and then it is served to you,” type of restaurant. The meal is tailored to how you want it right from the beginning. From sausages, lamb chops, and dry-aged meat to steak cuts such as porterhouse, rib eye, and prime rib–the possibilities are endless. Can’t decide what to get? The butcher is there to help and guide you through everything.
Every dish is delivered to your table the second it comes out of the wood-fire oven, piping hot. Whether you are eating a melt-in your mouth wagyu steak, a crispy side of brussel sprouts, a juicy cut of chicken, a lean pork chop, or a nice thick burger; there will be an explosion of flavor in every bite you take.
Owner, Thomas D’Amrbrisi, had an approach much different than what The Butcher’s Block is today. Born and bred by the Jersey Shore, he was always surrounded by and educated about various cuts of meat. The family business, D’Ambrisi Whole Foods, currently run by his father and brother—Rudy and Rudy Jr.—has been distributing meat to restaurants and supermarkets throughout the state for about 35 years. A few years ago they had the opportunity to expand to a different location, which is how The Butcher’s Block was born.
D’Ambrisi saw this 50-year-old hanging beef facility in Long Branch where it was once used to slaughter and process meat. Eventually, it just became a refrigerated warehouse. When he saw this abandoned building, D’Ambrisi had a vision for it.
“I wanted to create an experience where people would come to this place in Long Branch, New Jersey with so much history of hanging beef and animals,” said D’Ambrisi. “I wanted to recreate it and bring it back with this cool, fun twist.”
To recreate his vision of the building, D’Ambrisi connected with Dean Bruno. Bruno saw the blank walls of the warehouse with the opportunity of creating something beautiful. D’Ambrisi and Bruno came together and bounced ideas off of each other. After much collaboration, Bruno went to work. He redesigned the building by himself, day and night, mainly using reclaimed products. Most of the bricks structured at The Butcher’s Block were actually from a building that was knocked down in Sea Bright. They did this as a way of trying to bring that building back to life. This ties into one of the core values The Butcher’s Block holds dear—sustainability.
Of course, no butcher shop would be complete without the butcher himself. Luckily, D’Ambrisi knew the right guy for the job. Armanda Ferrante, also known as their “arm,” grew up in Philadelphia working in a butcher shop. D’Ambrisi said, “He has this smile that is just contagious. We lost touch for a few years and we never really did anything. All of a sudden, I’m putting this shop together where I wanted to recreate the butcher and bring it back. And I said I know the guy, so I brought him in.”
The Butcher’s Block has its meat coming from various sources. Some of their meat coming from South Dakota where they have a Meyer Natural Angus Program—no antibiotics, humanely handled and raised. They also try to source locally. One place is Cloverbud Ranch in Rhode Island—known for its New England Grass Fed Beef. In New Jersey, a few places include Double Brook Farm in Hopewell and Skillman Farm in the North. They reach out to these farms and have very close relationships with them as another way of bringing that connectivity back.
The specialty butcher shop officially opened in May 2019. At first, it was a butcher shop where you could enjoy sandwiches and pizza while connecting with the butcher. Surprisingly, after only three days of being opened, people started to ask D’Ambrisi if they could come in for dinner. Never in a million years did D’Ambrisi think he would open a restaurant because of his zero experience in the industry. However, after more people started asking, he turned to his executive chef, Bud Carter. Carter and D’Ambrisi have known each other since elementary school and have been close friends ever since. Before the Butcher’s Block, Carter was working at a local restaurant that D’Ambrisi would sell meat to.
“When I was putting this project together, I thought Bud is the guy. He has my personality and my style, I love him as a person,” D’Ambrisi explained. “I had no experience in this industry, but he does.”
One night, they called a few friends and hosted dinner for them. As the days went on, more people started coming in. They had to start grabbing every chair they had from their houses to keep up with all the customers. They are now doing about 300 to 350 covers per night.
At first, they did not even have a set menu for the restaurant. They were telling people this is what they were serving tonight based on the products they had and depending on the season. Everything was being made from scratch. The restaurant does not focus on a niche cuisine. D’Ambrisi believes that cuisine is based on culture and they are continuing to create theirs. “We are changing but at the same time we want to stay to our roots—what we’re good at and what we are, just keeping it simple,” D’Ambrisi said. “As long as it derives around our core of meat, I think that’s the key.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to close their restaurant. They felt that a steak, fresh out of a wood fire oven, followed by putting it in a box was not their product. Whereas in the dining room, they would usually serve it on a cast-iron skillet sizzling hot, which is how it is supposed to be. Regardless, they took this time to truly go back to their original vision—showcasing the relationship with the butcher. Now more than ever, people were dining at home. What they did was they had these “Block Boxes” that customers could pick up and take home. Each box contained different types of meat such as pork chops, chicken cutlets, sausages, prime filet mignon and much more. They had so many people calling and talking about their meat that it essentially brought back the relationship that was once lost.
After only one year in business, The Butcher’s Block has evolved with the additions of a restaurant and now a café! D’Ambrisi says he would not have been able to do it without the help of his team, sharing a personal relationship with each one of them.
“The coolest thing about all these guys was that I was taking this old meat warehouse of history and turning into something I believed in. The best part was, they believed in me. They saw it for how it was and they just believed in it too. I am grateful for that. There’s a lot of trust in each other and we all believe in this,” explained D’Ambrisi. “It’s our culture and we created it.”
This building in Monmouth County may be small, but is jam packed with an adventure of its own. There is a cafe, restaurant and butcher shop all in one place. If you are looking for an experience unlike any other, The Butcher’s Block is the place to be.