With Chicagoans’ endless interest in sustainable food upping the demand for high-quality meat, butcher shops are having a renaissance.
While my grandfather, a proud meat cutter for 50 years, would have dropped his cleaver if I told him that butchery had become a concept—today’s next-generation meat markets serve up gourmet sandwiches, cocktails, and even live music—our town’s top protein purveyors have chops to spare.
This timeline shows the progression of local retailers currently mastering the bloodiest of artisanal food crafts, from the old-school survivors to the new-school standouts, all of which I heartily recommend.
Gepperth’s Meat Market
The most venerable of Chicago butcher shops, Gepperth’s has been a Lincoln Park institution for more than a century. Owned by husband-and-wife team Otto and Dianna Demke since 1981, this charming storefront specializes in the classics: USDA prime beef, domestic lamb, and Grade A poultry. Go here for beautifully marbled bone-in rib eyes (dry-aged in-house) or flavorful flat irons perfect for slow-cooker stew. The friendly and white-mustachioed Otto trims them himself at a well-worn wood table behind the counter. Don’t miss the housemade Italian sausages spiked with a salty kick of prosciutto. 1964 N. Halsted St., 773-549-3883
The Retro Modernist
Yank a number from the mouth of the pig that sits at the entrance and prepare to be bombarded by a dizzying selection of top-quality meats. This full-service emporium features everything from hormone-free lamb to grass-fed beef to wild game, plus a sausage counter stocked with housemade turducken (turkey-duck-chicken) brats and Portuguese linguiça laced with garlic. An army of men in white paper hats is available to answer the meatiest of questions, from how to prepare a prime roast to the best marinade for that expertly cut hanger steak. 3501 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-248-6272
The Butcher & Larder
Rob Levitt’s pig-butchering demos at his Wicker Park eatery Mado (2008–10) led him to his true calling: to open the city’s first “locally sourced whole-animal butcher shop.” The snout-to-tail approach allows Levitt to turn you on to something new, such as a calf muscle of beef, a boneless shank perfect for braising. “We don’t always have all the cuts,” he says. “But we always have something great.” Like the daily sandwich specials or the masterfully crafted charcuterie, especially the chicken liver pâté. Tip: Shop here on Thursdays, the day after the deliveries of whole animals arrive. 1026 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-687-8280
Publican Quality Meats
The Sandwich King
This meatpacking district destination from uber-chef Paul Kahan succeeds splendidly as both a high-end butcher shop and a cozy café. Hipster foodies, well-heeled West Loopers, and food industry royalty flock here for restaurant-quality meat from bold-name farms (grass-fed beef from Belgian Blue, pork from Slagel), as well as mind-blowing sandwiches like the justly revered pork belly gyro on fresh-baked flatbread. The deeply knowledgeable staff keeps busy hand-trimming pork shoulders and waxing poetic about the life-
changing cherry-studded rabbit confit foie gras. 825 W. Fulton Market, 312-445-8977
Can Wicker Park handle a butcher shop and music venue under one roof? That’s the scene at this 15,000-square-foot multihyphenated space with a sandwich counter, cocktail bar, and 70-seat dining room. The meat cases hold a selection of the same fresh cuts offered on the menu. “Diners can enjoy a steak in the restaurant and then [take] those same steaks home,” says partner Mario Minelli, also a third-generation owner of Minelli Meats in Niles. Heat seekers: Pick up potent “nitro” Italian sausages, made from a 50-year-old family recipe—and brace yourselves. 2033 W. North Ave., 773-537-4440
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