Ah, the good old days, when every neighborhood had a butcher shop where Mom went to get her Sunday roast and the butcher would slide little Jimmy a fresh-sliced round of bologna.
Those days might be good and gone, but the friendly neighborhood butcher shop is making a comeback after decades of decimation at the hands of supermarkets. That would be good news on its own, but this narrative gets better: Modern butcher shops like Adam Lambert and Trevor Clatterbuck's brand new Ohio City Provisions (3208 Lorain Ave., 216-465-2762, ohiocityprovisions.com) deliver better products and service than even our parents and grandparents enjoyed.
"There are butchers who can cut me under the table, but I think where we really differ is the product: where we source it and how we present it," Lambert explains. "It's the same principle as being a chef: You start with great products and just don't fuck them up. That's always been my motto."
Most artisan butcher shops emphasize buying whole animals from well-run local farms, but these guys take that notion a step further. A few steps further, actually. Many of the animals that become delicious store products start life at Wholesome Valley, a 200-acre Amish-assisted farm that Clatterbuck recently purchased to provide his Fresh Fork CSA members with the best possible produce, dairy and meat.
More than just a feel-good moniker, Wholesome Valley truly is a wholesome place to live if you're livestock. Berkshire hogs loll about in cool, muddy creek beds while gorging on whey. Hereford cattle wander the landscape ruminating on grass. Chicken, duck and turkey literally have free range of the place. It goes without saying that all meats — either raised by the owners or purchased from like-minded farmers in the area — are raised without antibiotics, hormones or steroids.
Step into OCP, a converted double storefront on Lorain Avenue, and you'll likely see Lambert working in his office: a spotless 45-degree cutting room where he breaks down animals, grinds, seasons and stuffs sausage, and transforms various cuts of pork, beef and poultry into preservative-free deli meats. The wall of windows reveals all, a nod to the level of transparency that pervades the entire operation.
Chilled cases are stocked with cold cuts like house-smoked turkey breast, salami, pistachio-flecked mortadella and grass-fed beef bologna enriched with beef liver. Pates and terrines range from rustic pate de campagne to silky-smooth chicken liver terrine. Alongside thick-cut porterhouses and lamb chops are pork ribs, porchettas and fresh-ground grass-fed beef, which at $8 per pound is less expensive than Whole Foods because there is no middle man.
Shoppers shouldn't expect to see row upon row of pre-carved steaks, chops and filets like they do at the grocery, says Lambert, who leads me into a rear walk-in cooler filled with sides of beef, pork and lamb.
"I'm not going to have 40 steaks laid out," he says. "We put out what we offer and when people want them, I'll go cut them. Everything starts to age and lose quality as soon as it's cut."
That level of service extends to all facets of the operation. Sure, Lambert will cut a steak as thick as you'd like, but he'll also gladly and free of charge French a lamb rack, carve out a skin-on pork shoulder, or vac-seal a pound or two of ground beef for your freezer.
"What I'm really enjoying is the customer interaction — to be able to talk people through dishes," says Lambert, adding that he recently guided a nervy young man through his first home-cooked dinner for a lady friend.
Lambert and Clatterbuck are joined three days a week by chef Parker Bosley, a leader in the farm-to-table movement both here and elsewhere.
"We joke that we have 100 years of cooking experience behind the line and Parker is 65 of them," Clatterbuck says.
In addition to the meat selection, OCP stocks an all-Ohio lineup of cheese, eggs, milk, yogurt and butter from grass-fed Guernsey cows that's as yellow as daffodils. A freezer stocks whole ducks, chickens and feet for stock, but also stock itself, made from the very same chickens, ducks, turkeys, beef and pork. Dry goods like jams, honey, Amish grains, maple syrup and fresh-baked breads join in-season produce like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes, garlic apples, squash and onions.
In a temperature- and humidity-controlled curing chamber, items like coppa, lonzino, prosciutto, bacon and pancetta hang to slowly dry, age and cure. When ready, they'll join the other deli meats in the case.
Coming soon, says Lambert, will be cooking and butchery classes during which customers will learn how to break down larger cuts of meat into steaks, chops, sausage and stock.
Ohio City Provisions is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.