Shopping at the Butcher

I often hear old-timers talking about the good ol' days of going to the local butcher to get the night's dinner. They even get a little nostalgic for the sawdust on the floor. Nowadays most people pick up their meat at the local grocery store. No nostalgia there.

But you can still find some butcher shops in the Washington region that offer fresh cuts of different types of beef and poultry. And don't forget about fresh fish. So does it really make a difference to get fresh meat and fish at a store that specializes in those things? You're often paying more and are dealing with the inconvenience of traveling to a separate store that doesn't sell some of the essentials that a big grocery store sells. But shop owners say they're worth it.

Take Wagshal's, for example. This Washington deli opened a market to sell fresh meats and seafood in November 1995. Since then it's tried to be the authority on everything poultry, meat and fish. Aside from its traditional inventory of steaks and pork chops, it also carries a wide selection of exotic meats such as small suckling pigs, Japanese Wagyu beef, kangaroo, ostrich and buffalo. The market has also tried to set itself apart by carrying prime grade meats, the highest grade under the USDA's beef grading system. The store also dry ages all of its fresh meats, which means it has a locker in the basement where meats hang at a certain temperature for 28 days for the maximum amount of flavor. All that means a higher bill at the cash register, like $26 a pound for porterhouse steak and $27 a pound for New York strip. The family-run business makes 14 different types of sausage, ranging from $5.99 to $7.99 a pound. The market doesn't have sawdust on the floor but the owners are often told that it feels like the old days.

So why pay that much for a little nostalgia? Aaron Fuchs, one of the managers of the store and the owner's son, says you're paying for its wide selection, as well as a staff that's been in the business for many years.

"You're paying for our knowledge... the fact that we know what we're talking about," Fuchs says. "You can ask us anything about meat and how to prepare it."

The market's success has Fuchs busy preparing to sell meats on its Web site. The business is hoping to have the feature up and running for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

On the seafood side, the benefits of getting fresh fish from a store that specializes in seafood rather than the local grocery store is that the fish isn't sitting in the case for longer than a few days, according to Al McDonald, owner of Fresh Catch Seafood based in Great Falls.

"Our turnover is quicker. That's imperative," McDonald says. "You don't want something that's been sitting."

At Fresh Catch, you can get everything from swordfish and scallops from Boston to local soft-shell and hard-shell crabs and branzini, a Mediterranean fish that has become popular in the United States.

And you may recall my discovery of exotic fish at international food stores like Grandmart where I found milk fish and spot fish.

So where do you buy meat and fish? Do you think speciality stores are worth the money and extra trip? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  May 29, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Grocery Deals
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Comments

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For a good steak, veal and great pork I go to the Organic Butcher. I want meat with fat that tastes like what it is supposed to be not like boneless chicken breast. Local grass fed, organic, prime dry aged beef is the best with local vegiies and local red wine. For everyday meat Wegman's.
I refurse to buy their prime beef becuase it is corn fed. I also buy my fish at Wegman's since it one of the few places that has fresh never frozen shrimp. Their tuna, sole and scallops are great During the holidays they at least 6 different types of lobster tails. Wegman's is 3 miles from house and the Giant the same in the other direction. The Organic Butcher bone in rib eye steak is the best I have ever had. Beats any DC area, NYC and Vegas steak house I ahve tried. And we are comparing applees to apples bone in rib eye dry aged grass fed prime.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 6:52 AM

We used to live in Laurel and the Meat Market on Main Street there was/is wonderful. Whenever I am there, I stop to pick up some stuff. Miss it - and sure wish I had better access to some of these other stores, too. . .

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 9:05 AM

For everyday I concur with Wegman's and would add Whole Foods. The Fairfax locations are a 15-20 minute drive, but I feel that the overall quality and freshness are far superior to any regular grocery store and I pass several Giant's and Safeway's along the way.

Whole Foods has dry aged beef, but I really can't get my head around the price per pound even though I think that it tastes great. I also like the halal butcher on Jermantown Road in Fairfax. The chicken is outstanding...probably the most flavorful that I have ever eaten.

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Posted by: liza | June 3, 2008 9:14 PM

If you are close to an Amish Market, go there! Annapolis has a good one, and Burtonsville was great too! (I think it is reopening in Laurel)

Trader Joe's offers the best quality for the money. (if you just enjoy spending money indiscrimately, go to Whole Foods). And the Laurel Meat Market really is marvelous!

Posted by: Scott Hutchinson | June 3, 2008 9:35 PM

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