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Back in 20th century America, when life was slow and small towns looked like Norman Rockwell paintings, families flocked to their local butcher. The shops eventually died out by the end of the century, a victim of the modern world’s need for speed and convenience, but they are making a comeback, thanks in part to the popularity of high-protein diets. This time around, however, the farm-to-table movement has given rise to a new breed of butcher shop/restaurant, with chefs breaking down the animal themselves. This trend is sweeping the country, but arguably no place is doing it better than the Magnolia State of Mississippi, where several culinary artists are carving and cooking cows, chickens and more to foodies’ delight.
Credit: Joseph Dera
David Raines – The Flora Butcher
For David Raines, red meat is a family affair. The cattle he butchers in Flora at The Flora Butcher come from his father, who raises the prized Japanese Black breed of Tajima Wagyu cow in Northern Louisiana. Known for its tenderness, marbling and superior flavor, the meat from this animal, notes Raines, is “the best of the best. And I get it at a fraction of the cost, because I buy the whole cow off of my father. So instead of $120 a pound, it might be $16, or up to around $40.”
Raines sources his chicken, pork and lamb from Mississippi purveyors, turning those meats and his Wagyu beef into not just butcher shop goods but also dishes like pot roast at his new place, Dave’s Triple B Restaurant in Jackson, where blue plate specials include lasagna, hamburger steak and Irish stew.
“The restaurant is a necessity,” Raines explains, “because when you get a whole animal in, everybody wants, for example, a ribeye and a filet, but the back leg is a third of the animal—that becomes chicken fried steak for us, and roast beef, pastrami and corned beef. It’s all designed so we can keep buying the whole animal direct from farmers.”
Cole Ellis – Delta Meat Market
Credit: Grant Ellis
Business is booming for James Beard-nominated chef Cole Ellis, proprietor of Delta Meat Market, which opened five years ago in Cleveland. Originally intended to be a grocery store with a couple of meat counters, the venture now serves lunch and offers catering. Ellis butchers and cure meats he gets from purveyors like Home Place Pastures in Como, producing a range of his own salamis, lunch meats, bacon and sausage. The menu, heavy on towering sandwiches and crunchy, flavorful salads, changes daily.
“When we first started this concept we wanted to be able to provide something that had been all but lost with mechanization and grocery and convenience stores,” Ellis explains. “And somewhere along the way we developed a small following that we’re proud of—people appreciate a relationship with the man cutting their meat. For example, every Friday we have a customer who comes in and wants a porterhouse. Usually we have his cut waiting on him with his name on it.”
Next up, sometime early next year, is the opening of the boutique hotel The Cotton House, right across the street from the current Delta Meat Market location downtown. Ellis, an investor, will operate a revamped butcher shop and rooftop restaurant and bar within it.
Mitch McCamey – The Neon Pig
By Mitch McCamey’s reckoning, his restaurants are going to butcher at least 160 whole cows by the end of the year, putting some $400,000 into the pockets of local farmers. And that’s not including the chickens, lambs and pigs that are broken down for the chef’s ventures, which include part ownership of The Neon Pig in Tupelo and Oxford, and Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, also in Tupelo.
“We butcher these animals, we put them in our case for retail and source them to our restaurants, and we take any scrap and make burgers,” McCamey says. “The Neon Pig was lucky enough to be voted best burger in America by Thrillist a couple years ago. That allowed us to sell more burgers and keep butchering, because all of that scrap goes to my burgers. It makes them amazing, because they’re made from high-quality meat that we’re butchering every day.”
McCamey adds, “When you’re doing it and you’re doing it well, being a butcher is the most enjoyable position in any restaurant because it’s direct to customer. People want good food at a fair price…although it’s always been about ingredients, it’s also been about how we treat people.”