As a small boy, I used to tag along with my grandparents on visits to the neighborhood butcher shop. I still can recall the sight of the floor covered with fresh sawdust, which was strewn about to soak up the juices that dripped from sides of beef hauled through the front door. My eyes as big as saucers, I witnessed that scene a couple of times.
While you can’t plug into such high drama at The Meat House in Chadds Ford, what you will discover is a modern version of the old neighborhood butcher, and much more.
“It is an old idea that’s new again,” says proprietor Scott Gagnon. “We wanted to re-create the strong sense of community that the neighborhood butcher shops used to provide: getting to know our customers. We have great products, but we back it up with good people. Our goal is to provide an incredible food experience.”
The store opened on Route 202 (across from the Wawa) on February 28, bringing “fine dining hospitality” to the retail business. Doors are opened for every customer, bags are carried out, and each supervisor can offer suggestions on food pairings and cooking times. Shoppers are greeted, given a tour if it’s their first visit, and offered samples. The Meat House has hired an executive team with culinary training and years of experience in the service industry. Seven of their 22 employees are chefs.
Founded in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2003, the Meat House has franchises all across the country. Chadds Ford is No. 30, and features 5,000 square feet of space along with rolling display shelves that are meant to be switched around with the seasons. Vintage butcher and farmer photos line the walls, and displays include both a butcher’s block from 1945 and a meat scale from 1918.
The Meat House provides all of the ingredients shoppers need to whip up a gourmet meal or casual get- together for friends and family.
“We always have chefs in the kitchen cooking something,” says Gagnon, who lives in Middletown, Del. “So we’re able to round out the whole plate. It’s also about the hospitality and relationships. We get to know the customer. If you love rib eyes, we’ll remember that, so you’ll get great-looking rib eyes or one that will be put on special. We build those kinds of relationships.”
The store’s 6o-foot-long glass cases are brimming with conventional and grass-fed beef, locally sourced pork, lamb, chicken, veal, bison, and house-made sausages, and ground beef, turkey, chicken, veal, and pork. Its Philly fishmonger is Samuels & Son, one of the best in the country. Fresh shellfish, whole fish, filet, and steaks are delivered daily. You’ll also find locally created cheeses and fresh produce, prepared side dishes, and Boar’s Head lunch meats.
Shelves carry fresh baked goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, dips, spices and rubs, olive oils and marinated salads, hearty baked goods, delectable desserts and pastries, and glass bottles of luscious milk where the cream floats on the top. Despite the name, The Meat House offers something for meat lovers and vegetarians alike, including gluten-free dishes and a salad/tapas bar with 10 varieties of olives, greens, hummus, and even fresh falafel and pita.
But it’s called The Meat House for a reason. All of the meat comes from Indian Ridge Farm in Telford, Pa. Hand-cut to order, the high-quality meats are focused on the top-20 percent cuts of meats, primarily top and prime. If shoppers have a specific question about a cut of meat, their butchers are pleased to share their knowledge.
“I think what we’re best known for is our steak tips,” beams Gagnon. “It’s a sirloin steak tip. It’s how the company was started, and once people try them, they love them and get them over and over again. We also tout our dry-aged beef, reminiscent of the kind served at the finest steakhouses in the country.”
You should also try the “Obis One Black Garlic.” It’s aged and fermented organic raw garlic, black in color, sweet and savory in flavor, soft like dried fruit, and no garlic breath! Partner it with sauces, meats, pizzas, and veggies. An inventive food specialty, Obis One come’s from Obisquahassit, New Jersey’s oldest working farm, circa 1670.
The store is steadily building relationships with dozens of local food vendors, including Jenny and Frank’s Artisan Gelato. This West Chester operation makes each micro-batch of gelato from scratch, by hand, from the freshest local dairy, eggs, fruit, and herbs. Also from West Chester, Shellbark Hollow Farm produces superb artisan cheeses and cheese spreads from its herd of purebred Nubian goats.
Gagnon, Assistant Manager Scott Thomas and their team say they can bring in anything – within reason – that the customer wants within a few days.
“We’ve had people come in to pre-order goat, some form of octopus other than what we already have ready and a special type of alligator,” Gagnon reports. “We’ve had a couple requests for a full side of beef. If people have a special request, something that’s hard, we’ll do out best to find it for them.”
We toted home a trio of lunchtime treats– zesty BBQ pulled pork, an amazing black and blue sirloin burger, and those luscious steak tips. With the grilling season in full swing, it’s a safe bet The Meat House is already the go-to place.
Terry Conway has been a regular contributor to The Hunt magazine since 2003.