Meat-spiration – Toronto’s Butchers
FIDEL GASTRO GETS SOME MEAT-SPIRATION
Usually when asked about my career in the past tense, my copywriting marketing/ advertising background becomes a focal point. Now although this might be true, if you go way way wayyyy back you’d know that I’ve actually worked hands on in butcher shops across Toronto for over 10 years.
So my background and appreciation for food starts at the beginning: the butching stage, the raw meat stage, the animal on the block ready to be chopped up and broken down stage. With all that love of meat said, my girlfriend (and lovely photog)and I went to three Toronto butcher shops for a little bit of meat-spiration. 1 day. 3 shops. Lots-o-meat.
Celebrity Chef Mark McEwan opened his gourmet food emporium just over two years ago. Truth be told I actually worked for Mark when his store opened. If you watch that season of The Heat look for FG sporting a white meat coat (and shoes) in the background of a few scenes.
What I love most about his meat department is the presentation. And the pinnacle of that presentation is the dry aging fridge he built into the wall. So smart. A true restaurateur’s approach to a butcher shop. Take something that would normally be in the back room, hidden from clients, and put it right out in the open for people to see. And it works. I’ve seen people stop to look at it as if it were art and wanting to buy the standing ribs as is, completely oblivious to the fact that a lot trimming is still needed. Dry age as a cut of meat is also very restaurant and becoming a big trend in what people ask for from their shops.
I purchased one dry-aged rib steak and one milk-fed Ontario veal loin chop and cooked both the exact same way. On the cue with salt, pepper and olive oil and finished with some fresh lemon juice to liven it up. Fantastic natural flavours came through the meat and really made the quality of the product very obvious. Lesson learned at McEwan? Don’t just talk about the money shot (we sell dry-aged beef), show it (oh look, a dry-aged beef fridge).
The Butcher’s Son
My good friend Matt (aka The Butcher’s Son) opened his doors right around the same time I held my first pop-up. He needed a set of reliable hands around the shop when they opened and I needed an industrial kitchen to cook out off. We collaborated and came up with one pork-tastic relationship that so far has served both people and companies well.
What I liked about Matt’s setup is that you know right away that this is first and foremost a butcher shop. They also do fantastic prepared foods done by my boy Chef Brandon Conrad (who’s been known to dawn a FG army shirt and work a pop-up or two). But meat is the core. Matt has taken a very young and new approach to the old-world style butcher shop. After all, we both learned everything we know from our years spent working at Bruno’s Fine Foods.
Two things that The Butcher’s Son does really well: sausage and grass fed beef. Hands down I consider myself to be a grass fed beef kinda guy. If it’s organic, great, but at the very least I prefer my beef to be grass fed. Having said that, I know a slew of USDA loyalists are jumping in protest saying grass fed has no marbling. Well you’re wrong. The Butcher’s Son uses a PEI blue dot grade grass fed beef that’s uses potatoes to finish off the diet and add a little bit of fat. The product might not always be consistent, but I have definitely seen it have marbling that’s comparable to the USDA prime. Fact! My pick of the bunch, the beef tenderloin. I slow cooked a roast on the BBQ and did it in a red wine, Dijon and balsamic marinade that the beef soaked up like a sponge. It was so tender that we all cut the pieces of meat without a knife. Add one really long link of homemade Italian sausage with fresh herbs and light on the fennel… well folks, you’ve got yourself meat party.
The Healthy Butcher
Last but not least on this little trifecta journey of butcher shops was The Healthy Butcher on Eglinton. Now if I were to ever open up a shop, I’d do it up like this one. Mainly a butcher shop with the right balance of organic produce and seafood, prepared foods, a little coffee station and those perfect odds and ends that foodies hope to receive in gift baskets.
What is truly amazing about this butcher shop is the extreme amount of knowledge and education that comes with their product. You want to know the difference between local, organic and sustainable? Well just ask any of the butchers they have on staff. We got to go into the meat fridge and for us this was the deal-breaker. They do nose to tail whole animal butchery. A risky business because a lot of people do not buy every nook and cranny of the cow and pig. This would probably explain the entire freezer devoted to sausage at this location. But from my perspective seeing a side of beef with the farm name and the kill date printed on it actually excites me. Being able to see a whole pig cut in half just sends a shockwave of pop-up sandwich ideas through my mind. For me this is their point of difference. I was so impressed by this offering. Like I said it’s risky because you are left with plenty of tertiary cuts that not a lot of peoplewant. But it forces you (them) to get creative.
To all three butcher shops I say Ole and mucho thanks for taking FG and his lady through your world delivering Toronto’s best meat-spiration.
As always, all photo cred goes to Kyla Zanardi.
Viva la revolucion!