Old-school butcher shop hopes to spark trend

February 18, 2011 8:44:34 PM PST
There are still a few places where you're likely to know the butcher's name, like Elegance in Meats in Northbrook or Paulina Market in Roscoe Village.

But due in part to a movement based in Brooklyn, young butchers are relishing a chance to use up the whole animal, and not just sell strips, porterhouses and ribs. The roots of this philosophy really reach back a century or more.

Like a gunslinger from the Old West, Rob Levitt is a cowboy of sorts. Drawing an assortment of knives at will from his sturdy holster, the former cook turned in his fancy chef's knives, and traded up for an arsenal of cleavers and saws.

His mission now is to help restore the lost art of butchering at the aptly-named Butcher & Larder in Noble Square.

"We buy all our animals whole. We custom-cut and serve a few sandwiches, but primarily we're focused on buying and cutting animals in just the old-school butcher shop way," Levitt said.

So that means 200-pound pigs and entire sides of cattle, broken down by hand everyday. It also means there is a limited supply of tenderloin and ribs, which results in educating customers about the joys of lesser-known cuts.

"You know there's a lot of cuts of meat that aren't, sort of, standard or very well known that are still really delicious and our idea is that we want to, not necessarily educate people, but we want to be able to offer people an alternative," Levitt said.

Levitt still cooks a little, offering one hot and one cold sandwich special everyday -- like beer-braised onions on rustic bread, topped off with roast beef and pickled carrots, and usually one soup. They also make their own sausages and pates. But Levitt truly hopes to inspire home cooks to try something out of their comfort zone.

"The benefit is we're a small shop and we really want to have that sort of personal 'know your butcher' relationship with people. So we're happy to spend some time with you and talk about the different cuts," said Levitt.

And that personal approach is what sets the shop apart. Call it a response to the mega-chain, but Levitt says the trend is already taking off on the East Coast, and it only makes sense that it would do so in the city that once housed the Union Stockyards.

"I think you're gonna, in the next few years, see more places like this pop up, and that's fine by me, the more the merrier. The more people buying whole animals and supporting farmers that way, you know, I think that's better for everybody," Levitt said.

In a few months, another new, old-style butcher shop is planned for the Fulton Market area from the team that brought you the Publican, Avec and Blackbird.

The Butcher & Larder
1026 N. Milwaukee Ave.