By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Sara Norris
Imagine red meat so clean you can eat it uncooked, straight off the cleaver. At San Diego's first whole-animal butchery - coming soon, perhaps to a neighborhood near you - every filet and organ extracted from humanely raised cows, pigs, goats and lambs will be practically sushi-grade.
"I've eaten those meats raw, and so have the farmers, but I advise cooking everything according to USDA recommendations," says James Holtslag, who wields the knife behind The Heart and Trotter, a venture he's launching with college pal Trey Nichols. The Virginia transplants plan to open a retail butchery by December, in either North County or metro San Diego.
"We want to take the mystery out of meat," Holtslag says, referring to the schoollike environment the men plan to create, allowing customers to view "break-downs" of the animals. (Think high-school science class dissections, but on a larger scale and sans formaldehyde.)
Several ranchers within a 250-mile radius of San Diego will provide the livestock. The animals, including chickens, are pastured (aka "free-range") and raised in optimal sanitary conditions without hormones or antibiotics.
"We also want to educate people about limiting their meat intake," says Holtslag.
Such limitations could prove challenging for hardcore carnivores with an appetite for the duo's promised inventory of offal (organ meats), house-made pates, scrapple and hard-to-find cuts like top sirloin caps and blade steaks (petite tenderloins from the shoulders of cattle or pigs).
The term "whole-animal butchery," Holtslag says, "means using every edible product of the animal," including various parts destined for dog food. Currently, the whole-animal butchery closest to San Diego is Lindy & Grundy in West Hollywood, where Holtslag mastered the craft during an apprenticeship.
"We were a little angry that there wasn't anywhere to get sustainable meats, except for those that come boxed," says Nichols, adding that the idea for the butchery originated when he was flipping meat at a barbecue he hosted with Holtslag.
"Unlike produce growers, there are a lot of meat farmers out there with no wholesale outlets," says Holtslag. "We plan on changing that."
The "Heart" in "Heart and Trotter" denotes the animals' blood-pumping organs. (Perhaps it's coincidence that Nichols works in the medical field selling heart devices.) The "trotter" is a reference to pig hooves.
While shopping for a storefront for their hearts, hooves and every other animal part, Nichols and Holtslag have begun branding their company "The Heart and Trotter Dining Tour," teaming with local restaurants and their chefs for butchery dinners involving the hindquarters of cows. Sink your teeth into the action August 15 at Alchemy in South Park, and September 16 at Sea & Smoke in Del Mar. 619.708.3566, theheartandtrotter.com
Grade "A" butchers around the county
Tip Top Meats
Founded by a German sausage master in 1967, this butchery triples as a restaurant and grocery store, offering in-house cuts of prime rib, pork chops, lamb shanks and more. The butchers' credo is straightforward and accommodating: "Whatever meat you want, we have it or we can get it - and we can smoke it, too."
6118 Paseo Del Norte, Carlsbad
It looks old-school on the surface, but Homegrown Meats was ahead of the stampede when it began touting grass-fed beef before sustainable, low-fat meats turned up on local menus. The company raises cattle on a Palomar Mountain ranch for everything from filet mignon to hot dogs. Check out the fifth anniversary celebration outside the butcher shop August 5.
7660 Fay Ave., Suite C, La Jolla
Butcher Block Meat Market
Sourced from several states, pork and beef loins are butchered fresh at this small, meat market in Barrio Logan, where staff members offer expert advice for transforming boring skirt steak into zesty carne asada. If you're hunting for goat, the "new" healthy red meat, the butchers will push it through the grinder for use in tacos and chili. Se habla español.
2670 National Ave., 619.232.9960
Siesel's Old Fashioned Meat & Deli, Iowa Meat Farms
Owned by the Cohn Restaurant Group, these two meat markets harken to bygone days when butchers advised consumers how best to cook a double-cut pork chop or achieve medium-rare steaks. Both shops boast an array of Midwest beef, free-range poultry, Berkshire pork and domestic lamb, all trimmed, scored or ground to customers' specifications.
Siesel's Old Fashioned Meat & Deli
4131 Ashton St., Bay Park
Iowa Meat Farms
6041 Mission Gorge Rd., Grantville