The 10 sandwiches on the menu at Stachowski's Market in Washington, D.C., haven’t changed since its opening day. It is one of the many Soup Nazi-esque touches that give the butcher shop its old-fashioned aesthetic.
There’s only been one recent addition below the pig-shaped chalkboard. Scrawled onto a piece of white butcher paper and affixed with scotch tape reads:
“FROM MANAGEMENT. There will be an extra $1.00 additional charge for Avocado on the Turkey club due to Extreme Prices with Avocados coming from Mexico due to some Political B.S.”
There lies the paradox and the charm of Stachowski’s. It's a corner butcher shop nestled in the heart of Georgetown, where well-heeled Washingtonians and politicos buy their roast beef, but where the owner is as brash and politically incorrect as they come. Its purveyor of fine meats, Jamie Stachowski, dresses in the traditional red apron, collared shirt and tie uniform that would remind Buffalonians of Charlie the Butcher or their favorite man behind the counter at the Broadway Market.
That’s because Stachowski is a Buffalonian, born at St. Joseph’s in Cheektowaga, raised in Kaisertown and later Wyoming County. Last month, the New York State Society of Washington, D.C., honored him at the annual Buffalo Nite on Capitol Hill with the Charging Buffalo award, an accolade that recognizes a Buffalo expat’s career and relationship between Western New York and Washington.
Like the towering sandwiches he serves to hungry patrons, Stachowski is a multilayered character. He’ll pepper his sentences with expletives at one moment, then wax poetic about his hometown the next.
“Down here, everything’s being redone,” he said, comparing D.C. to the Rust Belt. “Up there, I mean those ... hulking steel mills are still there.”
To hear Stachowski talk about Buffalo’s architecture and geography is a multisensory experience: He elongates his vowels and gesticulates, his hands grasping at imaginary, crumbling iron beams.
“[Buffalo] has big skies. Do you ever notice that?” he said, softening. “You’re a little bit north, so it stays lighter a little bit later, there’s the shale formations, the lakes are beautiful, the topography.”
For Buffalonians like myself living in D.C., Stachowski’s feels like a little slice of home hidden in one of its toniest neighborhoods. In a city full of $14 salads, this red brick establishment still serves hoagies the size of your head and features a meat case brimming with blood-red steaks and Polish favorites like golumpki, a beef and rice stuffed cabbage baked with housemade marinara. Best of all, it’s always buzzing with activity. The orders come in hot and fast, as the sound of clacking meat cleavers punctuate the butchers’ shouts of “grinder.”
The shop is the culmination of a long and storied career honed at the highest levels of the culinary world. But it’s also a market whose style and soul hearkens back to Stachowski’s upbringing in Western New York.
Stachowski grew up in the shadow of Our Lady of Czestochowa on the corner of Clinton Street and Meadowbrook Parkway. After church, his sprawling Polish family of nine aunts and uncles, plus 27 grandchildren, would gather for an early supper where his grandfather would furtively drop a bowl of sugar on the kids’ table to sweeten their czernina, a Polish duck blood soup.
His paternal grandfather owned a small farm outside the city where he raised hundreds of ducks, chickens and capons, a type of fowl that’s larger and richer in flavor than a chicken. Each weekend, the grandchildren would round up around 70 birds, throw them in the back of their grandfather’s station wagon and bring them back to his basement in Kaisertown for slaughtering.
From there, the process worked like a Henry Ford production line, with up to seven grandchildren between the ages of 8 and 10 working at a table. One would clean the guts, another separate the hearts and livers and another would bag the intestines. An electric machine with rubber fingers would pluck and catch the feathers from the birds, but errant plumes would still fly through the room. It might have been in this basement, where a young Stachowski had been relegated to plucking and separating meat, that a butcher was born.
Julia Child's influence
When Stachowski was about 10, his father moved the family to a new house in Wyoming County. His mother had visions of Town & Country magazine, but the location next to a farm that smelled like manure left much to be desired. For Stachowski, the rural setting meant he could no longer step outside his door and play with neighborhood kids.
“She was lonely, too. We came from the city, we were city people and my dad moved us out to the country,” he said, adding softly. “So I just hung out with my mom.”
In the midst of their shared loneliness, he and his mother bonded over the patron saint of French cuisine: Julia Child.
“I would come home and she would be watching Julia Child, trying to replicate her,” he said. “ I remember Christmas or Thanksgiving, we’d have it at our house. Nobody would be in the kitchen helping my mom out except me.”
Stachowski learned the basics of fine cooking with his mother and Child in the background. He would peel carrots and garlic for dinner, then deglaze a pan that had been used for meatloaf so he could add broth to flavor his dog’s dry food.
“That could be some of the roots of my cooking, right there,” he said. “I mean, where did I learn to deglaze a pan? Probably watching Julia Child with my mom.”
When Child’s cooking show couldn’t rein in Stachowski during his wild teen years, his parents put him to work in a kitchen on line duty.
“I fell in love with it. Instantly,” he said. “Kitchens are very exciting, they’re very dramatic, they’re very action-oriented, there’s so much movement.”
Soon after, he dropped out of high school and moved to Massachusetts to pursue an art career. The Art Institute of Boston wouldn’t accept him without a high school diploma. So Stachowski skipped over to Martha’s Vineyard where he worked as seasonal help at the Kelley House, an 18th-century hotel in the heart of the whaling village turned preppy haven of Edgartown.
There, Stachowski fawned over those “gorgeous” French chefs who preened in starched coats and boasted beautiful girlfriends. “I was like, 'That’s it, I want to be that dude.' And it was over.”
The path to D.C.
When the summer of '79 ended, he hopped in a car with one chef and drove to Los Angeles in three days. He picked up more refined skills from other French chefs there, but the man who would change Stachowski’s life was Jean-Louis Palladin, the “maestro” of the Watergate Hotel.
Stachowski moved to D.C. in 1984 to work at Palladin’s eponymous restaurant, where he also met his wife. Under Palladin's strict tutelage, he learned about French charcuterie and how to create pâtés, galantine and sausages.
That finesse came in handy when Stachowski and his wife ran their own business, Restaurant Kolumbia, a K Street restaurant that catered to the lobbying and investment firm set. One evening, his wife suggested making a charcuterie instead of tinier appetizers. Stachowski whipped up a “butcher board” and cemented his reputation as Washington’s meat connoisseur.
Stachowski sold the restaurant just before the recession hit. He kept a few key pieces of meat-processing equipment in his Virginia garage, which he turned into a little meat factory, "making 20 pounds for this guy, some pâtés for this hotel, making some kielbasa for this Polish store over here.”
Once his “garagiste” operation professionalized, Stachowski and his son sold their products at farmers markets. As its popularity grew, his son and regular customers began demanding a retail space.
“I’m thinking, ‘How many people are going to run down the street for a slice of pâté?’ ” he said. “Lo and behold, people here in Georgetown, they do.”
Though one may feel like Stachowski developed the market with his hometown in mind, he said the aesthetic happened organically. But even as he runs a top-notch butcher shop in Camelot, you can’t take the Buffalo out of Stachowski.
“You know what the best thing about Buffalo is? The people. They will do anything for you,” he said.