Rob Levitt of Chicago’s The Butcher & Larder. Photo by Jill Wait.

When I published Ruhlman’s Twenty last year, Rob Levitt, proprietor of an old-school butcher shop in the great meat city of Chicago called The Butcher & Larder, invited me to talk about technique while we made sausage and soup. It was so much fun and Rob, who happened also to be a graduate of the Chef Pardus school of kick-your-ass, was such a delight, I’m doing another Chicago event with him on Friday, October 19, at Floriole Cafe and Bakery, with my partner in Salumi, Brian Polcyn. (Details here on Rob’s site.)

It’s a great pleasure to see people such as Rob and his wife, Allie, doing things the right and the good way. Making use of the whole animal, for instance (Rob, what the hell is a “chuck flap”? a “Paleron steak”? Want!). I’m delighted to introduce this quintessential meat nerd with his first guest post.—M.R.

By Rob Levitt

It’s as easy as a pound of ground beef.

We sell a lot of great stuff at the shop, but rarely do customers glow more than telling us of the “best burger EVER….” Or perhaps a roasted chicken, a pot roast, or a pot of tomato “gravy” made with pork neck bones (finally—someone has these…). For the slightly more adventurous the tale might be of their first links of homemade sausage, and often I stand and listen to the story of the guy recently gifted with a Big Green Egg go into the most intimate details of his first smoked pork shoulder.

We sell a lot of strange things. Yes, tongue or brains, but also lesser known cuts that you probably haven’t seen before. Cuts that don’t make it into the supermarket grab ‘n’ go case. Chuck flaps, sirloin flaps, fresh ham cutlets, and pork sirloins move quickly, and by the end of the weekend, we are consistently out of Paleron steak and lamb sirloins.

Like the yet-to-blossom nerdy kid of the meat world, these cuts are often ugly and awkward, but really delicious.

We love introducing our customers to new and interesting cuts, and with meat prices rising, we know that a selection of non–rib eye, non–pork chop cuts is necessary. But the idea of enhancing the ordinary—taking regular recipes people have been making for years, recipes first tasted off of Grandma’s wooden spoon, and making them better than sum of their parts—is what makes it all worth it.

My Twitter feed (@butcherlarder) fills up fast with photos of burgers, pizza with B&L sausage, a plate of bacon and eggs (B&L bacon or a first attempt at homemade bacon made with our bellies), and beautifully golden roasted chickens resting in anxious anticipation of being carved.

What we’ve learned is that it isn’t about the ground beef. The raw chicken we sold you isn’t the star, nor is the bottom round for the pot roast. The pork belly is beautiful sitting on the little wooden pig in our meat case, but it isn’t what made your brunch.

The experience—start to finish—is what our customers are celebrating, and the best celebrations are the ones that don’t involve a special occasion; rather. they are just special, rewarding, fulfilling, and satisfying in and of themselves, on any day.

You made bacon just to make bacon and you shared it with your friends and family. You brined and roasted a chicken perfectly on a Tuesday night—just  because—and dinner was awesome.

To open your kitchen to friends and create a moment out of the ordinary. The satisfaction you feel when the ooohs and aaahs have died down, the bird has been carved, and silence falls over the dining table, that palpable silence heavy with comfort and satisfaction, is what we’re selling. A reason to go home and cook.

The entire Butcher & Larder family. Photo by Marissa Guggiana.

Recipe for the Perfect Start to a Day Off

While I normally offer up an actual recipe, with ingredients and measurements and serving suggestions, this post was about the simple pleasure good food can offer. Instead, I am sharing my favorite way to start a day off with my wife and daughter.

  • 1 6-inch chunk fresh baguette (I am partial to the baguettes from Floriole Bakery.)
  • A gratuitous amount of soft butter
  • Several thin slices of Benton’s ham (or your favorite ham)
  • A few slices of decent cheddar (Don’t get anything too fancy as that should be enjoyed on its own—not on a ham sandwich.)
  • A freshly brewed cup of your favorite coffee (I am partial to Metropolis or Intelligentsia.)
  1. Slice the baguette in half length-wise.
  2. Schmear with butter and add ham and cheese. Cut in half and place on a small plate.
  3. Pour coffee and eat on a patio or near an open window.
  4. Look around and take it all in.

Other links you may like:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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20 Wonderful responses to “Guest Post: Rob Levitt”

  • John K.

    Michael – One of the most enjoyable “gust posts” I recall reading. Love this line – “…open your kitchen to friends and create a moment out of the ordinary.” That’s a wonderful and insightful thought. I so enjoy cooking for friends and family each weekend. I feel fortunate to have found a local butcher in the Akron area – Sherman Provision – a wonderful family run business that gives me the type of service and product I have never known before. I’ve read of Butcher & Larder for some time now, and longed for something similar. Then one day stumbled into Sherman Provision through a local fellow food blog. Now it’s the only place I buys meat, and that makes me (and my friends and family) quite happy.

    John K.
    Akron, Ohio

  • Tags

    In this age of cryovac bags, it’s good to see someone using good old-fashioned hanging meat, which gets rarer every year.

  • Scott Lilley

    Well put, John. And thanks for the guest post, Rob. It’s nice to see the resurgence of the old school butcher shop. For anyone in southwestern Connecticut, Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport is the same kind of deal (and this post reminded me of them immediately): small shop, great meat, really helpful and friendly guys behind the counter, happy to talk you through how to prepare the beef heart or pork t-bone that you just picked up. They can also hook you up with lamb bellies, marrow bones, and pig’s ears, which is nice.

  • Carolyn Z

    Thank you for your guest column. I think this kind of butcher shop is becoming more and more common across our country. Yay!

  • MrBillWest

    Thanks for doing it with care. Does anyone know of a guide for finding similarly minded shops in other cities? I am looking specifically for the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, but I am sure others are wondering too.

  • Jason Parsons

    Sirloin flap is a staple in our house. We were looking for more affordable cuts, and although I have to get them at the wholesale market, we have created great recipes with them. Hanger steak as well.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Way to go!
    I sure wish that everyone could experience the pleasures of real food and real flavor that just isn’t widely available, in most cases it’s barely available.
    Growing up, we took it for granted, but it’s foreign to most.
    Sweet or cultured butter made from Jersey cream, tasty and filling hog maw, head cheese and highly flavorful and fatty potted pork with herbs spread on bread. Plump, juicy and golden brown capons and their boldly flavored stock from the carcass, feet & legs, heads, necks, etc.
    I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there!!! LOL
    It’s a shame our culture has so deteriorated!

    ~Martin

  • vytauras

    Funny, was there in may. Instead of going out i suggest friends that I.m going to cook something simple. Quick search on a phone…..found local butcher , got some unbelievable pork chops, grass fed T bone steaks , sausages, pate de champagne etc. Was thinking …we have very good butchers in City of Cleveland , but man ….this place rocks . Can’t even describe the quality meat that was …top notch !!! and pate the real McCoy !!! That was Butcher & Larder , was recommending those guys to all my friends at Chicago who lives in the area …awesome place, proud what they do and cares about quality . Even have several FB pictures ..here is one of them .. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=447095058637317&set=a.179544188725740.47605.100000104794613&type=1&theater

    • Mohamed

      its funny but thats what they are eating so i don’t see why seineg the animal before they eat it makes a difference, even if you don’t see the cow before you take a bite of a hamburger that person still took the life of a cowVA:D [1.9.8_1114]Like (1 vote)

  • former butcher

    One of my first jobs in the meat business was to go down the line of hanging hindquarters and cut off the “hanging tenders” aka hanger steaks or “pillars of the diaphragm” and put them into burger. This was because the hangers, having no fat cover, were prone to go slimy before any other sign of aging appeared on the carcass. Oxtails were another cut destined for early consignment to the bone barrel. Back then (early 70′s) we couldn’t give these cuts away. And this was a major meat packer (Swift). I would be hard pressed to estimate the amount of edible offal : pig livers, kidneys, head trimmings etc. that were thrown away.
    One good practice that we seem to have imported from Europe in the past 20 years is cutting meats to salvage muscles that are more tender, even though surrounded by tougher muscles. The flat iron steak out of the chuck is a good example.
    Back in the day, the small butcher shop was limited in his sources of hanging meat. In our area there were three large packers; and their product was about the same. Today the “artisinal” butcher has a wider choice, though still somewhat limited.

    • Harry

      Whereas I have to beg my local “happy meat” providers to bring hearts to the markets, so I may buy some! I must have had a good conversation with the butcher who processed my last pig, because she gave me the most unusal animal: it had two hearts, two tails, and three livers.

    • Nur

      My 2 1/2 year old granddaughter is very picky about what she eats. This snprig she helped plant our first vegetable garden. My ah-ha moment came when she picked her first tomato and eat the whole thing. She proceeded to pick and eat an onion, green pepper, and green bean, all things that had been yucky before. The ah-ha moment is still continuing. Returned from North Georgia with a bushel of wonderful apples. She has helped me make apple sauce, apple crisp,a great apple bunt cake, and freeze the the rest for later. Her part was of course the most important part, turn the handle on the apple peeler and make sure the apples stayed in the lemon water. When her mommy brought her over yesterday the first thing she wanted to know was, Grandma are we going to make today. The best ah-ha yet!

  • Harry

    While we’re discussing odd cuts: what do I do with the pig tongue I bought on a whim?

  • Nate

    My favorite line: “Like the yet-to-blossom nerdy kid of the meat world, these cuts are often ugly and awkward, but really delicious.” What? Exactly how does Rob Levitt know that blossoming nerds are delicious?

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