"I grew up on a farm. I won't just buy my beef anywhere," says the man standing beside me at the meat counter at the recently opened The Meat House: Premium Meats, Your Neighborhood Butcher in Ballantyne. The customer inspected the just cut 34-day dry-aged rib eye ($19.95 per pound) the butcher showed him. "Gotta have a lot of marbling to taste good. This is a good one," the man noted.
Here, meat is a serious business. In the display case are prime grade beef with cuts like Delmonico and a brawny cowboy steak (a bone-in rib steak). Don Hanna, one of the butchers, spent over 30 years perfecting his craft in Maine. The meat is "all-natural," not certified organic or free range.
The Meat House franchise is locally owned by Virginia (Ginny) Meehan. She moved to the area to be closer to family after a career in Maine which included owning a restaurant. Son-in-law and partner Shawn Merrill had gone to high school with the founders of the original The Meat House, Justin Rosberg and Jason Parent, who opened their first store in New Hampshire in 2003. Since then, the concept has spread to six states, including a store in Cary. Meehan owns the South Charlotte franchise and plans to open three more stores, but presently has no timeline.
The Meat House is an atavistic wonderland. The dry-aged prime is from Buckhead Beef while the other prime beef is from an Iowa ranch which has the ability to trace the meat back to a single animal. Merrill says, "A lot of our customers come in for veal scaloppini. Most of them are retired Northerners and very picky. We will cut it the way they want it."
In addition to fresh meat and house-made sausages, The Meat House has beef, pork, chicken, turkey and shrimp tumbled in one of the 13 proprietary marinades, included turkey tips in cilantro lime and beef tips in ginger teriyaki. Much of the meat is cryovaced. More exotic meats such as alligator, buffalo, ostrich, venison, quail, pheasant and whole rabbit are in the freezer. (Kobe beef is on the list, but this is American Wagyu -- not Japanese Kobe.) In this same case are veal sweetbreads and blood sausage.
The Meat House resembles any of those high-end, casually elegant gourmet stores in tourist spots or in quaint New England towns. Here and there are items from New England including the small jars of maple sugar by the cash register and rows of Maine's Stonewall Kitchen jams. Each Meat House is allowed to have up to 30 percent local items. Meehan carries breads by Nova's Bakery, pastas from Pasta & Provisions, and salsas and specialty products by Yah's Best, headquartered in Huntersville.
Much of the cheese is from New England, including a sensational Vermont brie and a creamy goat cheese with olives. Other dairy products are local, like the butter from Homestead Creamery in southern Virginia and dairy products from Lakeview Farms, a home delivery dairy located in Fort Mill. Lakeview's chocolate milk is a sell-out for good reason. The ice cream is from Tony's in Gastonia, a company that has been making ice cream since 1915. The produce is from local farms and much of the ready-to-eat selections, such as vegetable lasagna and gazpacho, are also made in-state by Chef Hamm Inc. of Sanford, N.C.
The Meat House deli carries Boar's Head products with some proprietary items such as their chicken salad ($6.95 per pound), which is made with a blend of chicken from three marinades.
Spices are sold in large containers and are reasonably priced. Grilling sauces and rubs are available, too, including Lysander's rub and Smith & Wollensky steak sauce. Over 100 wines are the center of the store, including some from North Carolina, while 100 varieties of craft beers line the cooler. One fun feature is the barrel of Ariston balsamic vinegar with refillable glass bottles.
Meehan said a customer volunteered to put gluten-free labels on the shelves. Some products, though, such as some salad dressings, have additives like high fructose corn syrup. If this is important to you, read the label.
Employees will call you by name. On your first visit, they will give you a tour of the store and if your shopping bag (paper only) is heavy -- or even if it is not -- an employee will insist on carrying it to your car. The Meat House is not a take-a-number butcher shop; rather, it is all about meat and greet, service and relationships.
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