Pat LaFrieda, Donald Link and Harvey Gussman can scoot on over on the meat-lover’s MVP bench—there’s a new kid in town, and he’s right here in Sayville. Born and raised on our South Shore, then trained and blooded in Manhattan, 26-year-old Stephen Rizzo is the new steak whisperer.
Tall, lean and lithe, dark of hair and eye. Tensely strung like a precision bow, beneath a façade of cool confidence and an Adam Levine-reminiscent appearance. There’s a steel core to Steve, and this intensity and quietly fierce drive has made his freshman solo venture, Off the Block Kitchen & Meats, so successful only half a year since its opening.
This endeavor is, in every way, a throwback for him and his hometown. Housed in a building on a quiet strip of Montauk Highway that actually was a local butcher shop in the ’70s, this spotless restaurant and market makes what is old new again … and better.
“I saw Sayville go so long without a good butcher,” says Rizzo, “and after my experiences”—as a CIA-trained chef, Bouley Restaurant alumnus, and Lobels of New York butcher—“I wanted my hometown to be able to have what the people of San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C. were able to get.”
By that, he means high-quality, organic, grass-fed, restaurant-grade meat to bring home. A restaurant that specialized only in impeccably sourced meats in a casual environment and accessible price points. A place where quality rules above all and a personal touch comes standard with every order, whether at the butcher counter, the take-out case, or the packed-to-the-brim dining room.
With this very specific vision clearly fixed in Rizzo’s mind, he opened Off the Block in December 2015, selling, preparing, and serving only organic chicken and Berkshire pork, all USDA prime beef, and 100 percent grass-fed beef to his customers and diners.
“I wanted to introduce a different, cool, and unique concept,” he says as he carefully places a beautifully marbled, whole primal cut of ribeye back in the dry aging case. He had just cut a couple of steaks off it for a happy customer, same as he does for everyone who comes in for a slab of beef. “We don’t take any shortcuts here,” he adds.
“With a whole primal cut, there’s no waste. Everything is to order to preserve quality and flexibility. It ensures that everything is always as fresh as possible, which is critical to us here. It’s why I made it a point to invest in a good meat grinder to make our own burger blend. But we even grind our chuck beef to order. It takes a little longer, but it’s worth it for taste and quality.”
It’s details like these that have earned the restaurant and market rave reviews since its opening day. That and perfectly seasoned hand-cut fries; vanilla-apple glazed Brussels sprouts that have developed a cult following; steamed pork belly buns; breads and rolls from the legendary Eli Zabar’s bakery in New York City; and sandwiches that leave you salivating simply from the ingredient list—and that’s just lunch. Brunch on Sundays is just as tantalizing, featuring free-range eggs accompanying skirt steaks, sweet potato hash with pulled pork and kale, blueberry sausage and more.
With the addition of small plates and produce from the new Off the Block Farm, invention-of-the-day burgers on Tuesday nights—when you can treat yourself to any burger and a brew for an unbelievable $12—plus nightly specials featuring stunning meats and seasonal accompaniments, the entire menu is impossible to resist.
Of course, hand-cut steaks are always available to dine in or take out; a nominal fee applies to having these beauties masterfully prepared by Rizzo himself or his sous chef and comrade-at-arms Eric Kaufer for table service. Other table-ready goods include organic, freshly rotisseried chicken, pastrami and prosciutto sliced to order, and healthy sides and salads. In the case at any given time are rotations of house potato, macaroni, edamame or chickpea salads and seasonal, often local vegetables like haricots verts and roasted asparagus.
For those who want to put their own stamp on their dinner or picnic, the house-made sausages, Berkshire pork chops and duck breast may be enticing. Rendered duck fat caught my eye. Imported English cheddar from Kilchurn Estates and gourmet goods from Sid Wainer & Son and Jansale Valley provide additional fodder for at-home inspiration.
Try your hand … or try theirs. But either way, this new kid on the block, Steve Rizzo of Off the Block, is certainly one to watch.