By Warren Bobrow
Located at the corner of Bank and Market streets, Hoeffner’s Prime Meats has been quietly turning out handmade sausages and prime aged beef, pork, lamb and organic chickens for more than 65 years.
Founded in 1945 by Hermine and Martin Hoeffner, the shop remains to this day strictly a family affair. When Martin came to Morristown from the Rheinhessen-Pfalz region in Germany, lots of other families had the same idea. There were at least 19 storefront butchers in town. They are lost to history.
The Hoeffners’ sons, Steve, 58 and Marty, 65, carry on the tradition. Step inside the door and find yourself surrounded by well-worn wooden chopping blocks and stainless steel meat hooks holding smoked and cured meats. If you come on a Friday or a Saturday, the white glazed refrigerated cases are full from their week’s labor.
Hoeffner’s is part cracker barrel and part butcher’s shop, with customers stopping in to chat with the brothers. There are few places left in Morristown where the locals can gather to “catch up.”
Steve has a kind demeanor and speaks with a wry smile. His brother Marty is more apt to be found in the back, hunched over a stainless steel table, hand-cutting small pieces of trimmed meat for sausage or meat loafs. Every loose scrap has a place in their recipes; hardly anything of flavor value is thrown away.
How do these brothers do it, year after year?
Marty said it is not always easy “to work with your brother all your life. It’s just like a marriage. The longer we work together, we’ve become a bit more tolerant or mellow.”
The brothers acknowledge that neither one is likely to change much. Still, Marty said, nobody goes home at night without asking, “How can I help you, is there anything you need?'”
In fact, Marty contends the shop has endured precisely because they are siblings.
“If I had to hire someone, they wouldn’t put up with it. It’s hard enough to find someone who wants to work, much more difficult to work with that person for 12-hour days, six or more days a week for nearly 65 years.”
Marty and Steve are in the shop nearly every day, doing something. This is more than a job– running a German butcher shop is a way of life. Steve is a crafts artist, papier mâché is his format. Cartoon ducks, chickens and a life- sized papier mâché version of their mother presenting a turkey on a platter decorate the store. Marty offers some homemade pickles for customers to taste. May I have one?
Steve goes out of his way to give his brother more time to spend outside the business with his family. “What helps Marty, helps both of us,” he said.
“You need time away to release steam,” Marty said.
On Fridays and Saturdays, German-style treats fill the cases; Sasche bratwurst (house smoked sausages made from pork and caraway seeds) sit next to house smoked pork chops raised on a farm in New Vernon. Hamburgers are always ground to order and hand formed.
Hoeffner’s may have house-cured smoked bacon or lean, Canadian-style bacon. Sausage breakfast patties are often available. Special order items may include crown roasts of pork with homemade sausage stuffing; stuffed pork chops come with Munster cheese.
Veal weisswursts are made from natural local veal without any fillers or preservatives.“Natural sausage casings are used instead of synthetic casings,” Marty said. “Most sausages today are comprised of synthetic casings.”
This is not a factory operation with shortcuts.
Marty explained dry aging of steak.
“First you must start with the best beef money can buy, then hang the beef in our wooden walk-in refrigerator for at least 28 days. All our steaks are USDA certified prime, boxed Mid-Western beef.”
Wet aging leaves all the natural flavor intact, he said.
“We don’t rush things. If I deem the steak not ready to eat, I don’t sell it to make a quick buck.”
Hoeffner’s marinates local NJ pork for the “Butt La Fay.” Steve explains that the butt is similar to “eating a Chinese-style spare rib without the hard bone.”
He said it’s “wonderful cooked over charcoal. The combination of sweet paprika, onion, kosher salt, water and oregano turns the slab meat into a juicy treat.”
Marty said they continue using their dad’s recipe of sweet paprika, onion, and a brining solution of kosher salt, water and oregano.
Steve waxes poetic about Hoeffner’s vast selections of prime aged beef: Shell steak, porterhouse, T-bone, prime rib, skirt steaks, flank steaks, tenderloins, top round. Seasonally, there is sauerbraten and secondcut corned beef brisket. The brothers ask how thick you want your steak, and then they hand trim it.
One of their specialties is smoked pork chops in a paste made from maple syrup and grainy mustard.
Offerings also include whole natural chickens from Murray’s in Pennsylvania. Steve bones them out.
Another crowd-pleaser is their weisswurst-stuffed, pounded chicken breast.
“Just bake at 375 for 45 minutes, with a pat of butter on top, it makes a great dinner sliced over rice with a salad,” Steve said, smiling like a father speaking proudly of his children.
Cases are lightly filled from Tuesday to Thursday, so call first to order your favorites for weekend pick-up.
Going for the first time? Look for the large pink pig on the sign out front.
Martin Hoeffner & Sons Inc. is open Tuesday-Friday 9-6, Saturdays until around 5. Parking is in back and out front. Credit cards accepted. For more information, call 973-538-3106.
Warren Bobrow was born and raised on a farm in Morristown. He is a classically trained saucier/chef and a food/spirits journalist with over three hundred published articles internationally. A rum judge for both the Ministry of Rum and the Barbados Rum Festival, he is a good person to have a cocktail with. Warren writes about biodynamic wine for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Edition 2.