At Ohio City Provisions, which recently opened on Lorain Avenue, shoppers can order a thick steak that came from a steer that was reared on little more than grass and sunshine at a farm owned by the proprietor and butchered by his partner.
For years Trevor Clatterbuck, who is the founder of the thriving local foods subscription service Fresh Fork, has been seeking out small family farms in the region to provide the produce, dairy, eggs, meats, breads and grains that fill the weekly grab bags of nearly 3,000 members. In the very recent past, Clatterbuck added one more farm to the mix: his own. Located in Wilmot, Ohio, Wholesome Valley Farm is a 200-acre Amish-run farm that is known for its organic produce and pasture-raised livestock.
"We are really excited to share with the customers our true farm-to-meat-case experience," Clatterbuck says of his and his partner Adam Lambert's Ohio City Provisions.
The shop is just the latest example of our growing affection for the neighborhood butcher. Cleveland is and always has been a meat-and-potatoes town, and the good folks who break down livestock and dress the flesh for personal consumption are the true heroes of the home. One look at the West Side Market, where beef, pork, lamb and poultry butchers outnumber all the other types of vendors combined, illustrates that point in spotless clarity.
Since "peak butcher," we've seen decades of attrition thanks to a catalog of attacks that include convenience foods, suburban supermarkets and a greater frequency of eating outside the home. But in the mid-2000s, fortunes began to change. Better animal husbandry, a heightened fascination with home cooking, and a demand by the consumer for meats raised without antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified feeds all combine to help usher in a new generation of meat cutters.
"I think we're seeing more butcher shops opening up now because the whole farm-to-table restaurant movement has been doing such a good job educating diners on why a particular piece of meat is better than what's at the grocery store," explains Melissa Khoury, who along with partner Penny Barend will soon open Saucisson in Slavic Village.
The trend is also giving a much-needed boost to enduring and irreplaceable Cleveland classics like the Sausage Shoppe, K & K Portage Market, Raddell's Sausage Shop and others.
In 1978, Sanford Herskovitz launched a small business called "Mister Brisket and his Meatmobile," a door-to-door meat delivery company. "Mr. Brisket," who happens to hold a Ph.D. in psychology and enjoys listening to opera in his small Cleveland Heights butcher shop, was decades ahead of the curve when it came to stocking high-quality preservative- and additive-free meats, poultry and seafood. Nearly 40 years later, he has become the de facto supplier for many of the city's top restaurants.
It's been 80 years since Jaworski Meats launched as a small butcher shop in Slavic Village's old Newburgh Market and business has never been better, says owner Mark Jaworski, who took over the operation after his father Fred passed away.
"We'll do 500 people on a Saturday," he says. "It gets a little crazy."
Jaworski credits the Food Network and popularity of farm-to-table restaurants with upping demand for ingredients and cuts not typically available at the local supermarket, which no longer bothers to staff in-house butchers. More and more shoppers are coming through Jaworski's door asking for items like headcheese, veal hearts, sweet breads and tripe.
"Before the Food Network, no one even heard of pork belly, and now they all keep asking for pork belly."
Perhaps more importantly, today's consumers better comprehend the true cost of good food and are willing to spend more for sustainably raised meat that comes from local suppliers they know and trust.
Joining Ohio City Provisions and Saucisson in the very near future is Butcher & the Brewer, which finally will open its retail butcher shop as a new outlet for the in-house butchering and charcuterie program it has been doing since the restaurant opened.
But today's butcher shops go much deeper than our grandfather's meat cutter. In addition to slicing and selling traditional steaks, chops, roasts and filets that derive mainly from the primal cuts, artisanal butchers utilize the entire animal from nose to tail. To sell those out-of-the-ordinary bits, a proprietor must be creative and talented, producing what folks in the business call "value-added products."
In addition to fresh-cut beef rib-eyes, strips and sirloins, just-cut pork chops and loins, and whole or sectioned local poultry, Butcher & the Brewer's white subway-tiled shop will carry housemade charcuterie like salamis, sausages, snack sticks and jerky. Saucisson crafts everything from crispy pork rinds and zesty Merguez sausage to currywurst and roasted garlic bologna in an attempt to utilize every last delicious bit of the beast.
But no operators exemplify the craft butcher movement more than Lambert and Clatterbuck. By raising much of the livestock themselves — from selecting specific heritage breeds to raising them on non-GMO feed — they can guarantee that the end products will be as good as they possibly can be. Grass-fed Hereford cattle, pasture-raised Mangalitsa pork, and truly free-range poultry all will be available in various shapes and forms at the shop, including retail cuts, charcuterie, sausages and pates.
For Cleveland carnivores, there has never been a better time to shop, cook and eat.