Stand-alone butcher shops once reigned supreme, and were the norm before the days of big grocery stores. Now, just a handful remain in Southwest Michigan.
“In those days, a meat market was a meat market,” Walter Wolf told a News-Palladium reporter in March 1954 as he was about to retire after more than 50 years as a butcher.
Wolf recalled the days when he started in the Benton Harbor meat market owned by his father, Gus Wolf. It was a time when meat salesmen would come into the shop with huge cans – generally empty lard containers – full of beer for the employees.
That was the fun part. Winter was another story.
Before refrigeration, butchers like Wolf, who purchased Fred Lucker’s meat market at 310 State St., in St. Joseph in 1920, had to keep their doors open to keep the meat cold.
It was also the days, Wolf reminisced, of the old herring barrel, and the back room where the poultry and meat were slaughtered.
When Wolf closed his doors, the shop, after some remodeling, reopened as Sherwin-Williams – still a mainstay in downtown.
L. Eckert, whose market was at 313 Main St., in Benton Harbor, was in business for 25 years and was known for smoking his own meat.
On July 31, 1886, Powell & Seaver opened a new meat market in the Twin Cities. One year later, George J. Wenninger and Charles Totzke – purchasing a meat market from R. Sutherland on the corner of Seventh and West Main streets – advertised they’d be selling fresh game in season.
They didn’t just sell meat at Rowe Bros. – who in 1889 advertised fresh fish was available every day. Dunbar & White on Conkley’s Block in Benton Harbor carried salt fish, canned fish and salt meats.
Around the same time, J.S. Lapointe opened a meat market on Pipestone Street near the corner of Britain next to Porter & Edgecumbe’s store. That same year, Willetts’ market on Territorial Street was advertising oysters at 35 cents a quart.
Spring chickens were available at Scherer’s Meat Market on Territorial Road in September 1891.
Several establishments had fun names like Benton Harbor Meat & Provisions Wagon (which sounds like an old-fashioned food truck) and the Palace Meat Market, owned by the Miller Brothers, which in 1904 was located on 156 Pipestone Road in Benton Harbor.
Freund Brothers was known for curing its hams and bacon, a 1914 Herald- Press story assured readers, not bathing them in creosote or doctoring them otherwise to make it appear as if they had been properly cured.
The market also sold Sealshipt oysters and fish. Sealshipt was a town in New England famed for their oysters, which were shipped via railroad cars in the late 1900s.
The Freund family were early pioneers in the area. John Freund bought cattle in Chicago and shipped them back to St. Joseph, where they owned a slaughterhouse.
Beyond St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, in 1896, the News-Palladium announced that a third butcher shop would soon be opening in Sodus; Berrien Springs had two meat markets in 1907.
In 1908, Elson Bros. Meat Market was open in Riverside.
According to the St. Joseph Evening Herald, in 1910, there were 720 butcher shops under license in Detroit.
Still going strong
Of all the meat markets that once flourished in this corner of the state, the one remaining is Drier’s Meat Market at 14 S. Elm St., in Three Oaks.
Opened shortly after the Civil War as Union Market, the store was bought by Ed Drier Sr. in 1913. He had previously worked there as a delivery boy before learning the trade.
On the National Registry of Historic Places, Drier’s has that herring-barrel appeal. It has the ambiance of an old-time butcher shop.
From the creaky screen door to the bell that rings when a visitor enters to the old-fashioned butcher paper and white string Carolyn Drier (Ed Senior’s granddaughter) uses to tie up purchases, it’s a living past.
Carolyn makes summer sausage using her grandfather’s original recipe, and continues to smoke hams and meats in a century-old brick smokehouse.
Using real ingredients, such as natural casings, is important at Drier’s. Carolyn says the casings have a different taste when you bite into them, unlike store casings, which are mushy.
Drier’s only uses beef in their hot dogs, uses a fine grind for their white brats, and still sells a lot of liver sausage, which has been made on premise since her grandfather took over.
“If anything, the liver sausage is even more popular than it ever has been,” Carolyn says.
Ron and Peggy Falatic opened a butcher shop in the Miller Beach area of Gary, Ind., and in 1976 bought Schuck’s Meat Market in Harbert.
Now the couple, who moved to Stevensville a decade ago, are working at Sawyer’s Falatics Meat Market with their son, Nick, and his sisters, Valerie Hill and Pamela Wessler.
“My dad’s been in the meat business for over 70 years,” Nick says. “He’s 85 and still working.”
The Falatics make a variety of sausages, including potato for the Swedish community that still resides the area. They have a variety of meats, including lamb, goat, rabbit and veal, and continue to cut steaks to specifications.
“One of the most popular cuts is a tomahawk steak,” Ron says as he holds up a menacing looking cut of beef that looks like a tomahawk.
They also sell a lot of whitefish, perch, softshelled crab, lobster tails, pickled herring, shrimp and halibut.
“Last Fourth of July we sold over 600 pounds of Scottish Atlantic Salmon,” Nick says. “We get our fish delivered by Fortune Fish. They’re unbelievable, it’s perfect fish.”
New kids on the block
Probably the newest kid on the block is Clear Water Meats – the English translation of Eau Claire, where the store is located – which opened five years ago.
Owned by Tim Nimtz, a culinary school graduate, and Willie Hannan, Clear Water Meats specializes in custom butchering and meat processing.
Nimtz says they expect to process more than 1,000 deer this fall. They also raise many of the animals they harvest.
“We raise our meat within 5 miles of the store,” says Nimtz, who with his father, Alan, and son, Trevor, runs a 500-acre grain and livestock farm on land owned by their family for more than 100 years. “The only thing we don’t raise is pork.”
Hannan, and his wife, Samantha, own a 200-acre farm in Watervliet that specializes in hay, sheep, goat and chicken production.
They sell their meats to Tosi’s in Stevensville, Rye-Belles in St. Joseph, TJ’s Sports Bar in Watervliet, the Roma Pizza restaurants in New Buffalo, Michigan City and Bridgman, Timberline Inn in Cassopolis, Soulard’s in Coloma, Chief’s Bar in Millburg and Lehman’s Farmhouse in Buchanan.
Bob Filbrandt started making sausages when he was 16. Now almost 70 and semi-retired, he continues to make a variety of sausages, like skinless brats, in a variety of flavors.
Filbrandt opened Bob’s Meats in South Haven 39 years ago, and the family smokes all the meats sold there, using two smokehouses inside and two outside cookers. They also provide meat processing services, provide harvesting at owner’s farms, and offer standard cuts of pork, beef and poultry.
“Probably the biggest thing we’re known for is our bacon,” Bob’s son, Scott Filbrandt, says.
They’ve won numerous awards, including gold and silver medals at this year’s International IFFA show put on by the German Butcher’s Association.
The roots of Zick’s Specialty Meats in Berrien Springs began as Zick’s Grocery store in St. Joseph. Now, the meat processing plant turns out some unique products that are sold nationwide.
Besides producing 20 flavors of snack sticks and jerky, it also offers 30 kinds of bacon, sausages and other smoked meats, and advertises they can turn venison, elk, caribou, bear, antelope and moose into smoked meats and sausages.
Jeff Vlasicak, owner of Vlasicak’s Meat Market & Smokehouse in Cassopolis, makes 12 flavors of sausages and jerkies, including cherry, jalapeno cheddar, polish and hot Hawaiian, jerky, meat sticks, ring bologna and smoked meats.
“We do a lot of deer processing, make our own hot dogs, and feature allnatural pork and chicken,” says Vlasicak, who bought the shop more than 11 years ago but says it’s been a butcher shop for 25 years.
The following recipes are from “Steak and Cake: More Than 100 Recipes to Make Any Meal a Smash Hit” by Elizabeth Karmel:
1 tomahawk steak (about 3 pounds and 3-4 inches thick), vacuum-sealed Extra-virgin olive oil Kosher salt 1 stick unsalted butter, melted 2 large sprigs rosemary (optional) Fleur de sel, for serving
Make sure your tomahawk steak is sealed in an air-tight package.
Fill a large, rectangular pot with water. Secure the sous vide circulator to the pot. Set the temperature to 140 degrees.
Once the temperature reaches 140, place the wrapped steak in the water. Let cook at 140 degrees, uncovered, for 4 hours for medium-rare.
Remove the steak from the water. Pat the wrapper dry and place the steak in its wrapper in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, just before you serve the steak, heat the grill with all burners on high. Once heated, adjust the temperature to medium- high for direct grilling.
Remove the steak from its wrapper, and blot dry with a paper towel. Brush all over with olive oil, and season with sea salt.
Place the steak on the grill, cover, and sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side to char the outside and warm the center.
Let the steak rest for 5 to 7 minutes, then slice off the bone. Place the slices on a platter, and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with fleur de sel, and serve.
Tuscan Steak with White Anchovy and Truffle
Butter and Grilled Lemons
1 porterhouse steak (about 3 1/2 pounds and 3 inches thick) 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 lemons, cut in half White Anchovy and Truffle Butter (see recipe below)
Heat the grill with all burners on high. Once heated, adjust the temperature to medium-high for direct grilling.
Wrap the steak in paper towels to rid it of excess moisture. Replace the paper towels as needed.
Place the steak on a platter and brush it generously on both sides with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper just before grilling.
Place the steak on the grill grate directly over the heat. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes per side to sear in grill marks. Turn off the burner under the steak and finish cooking by indirect heat, 45 to 50 minutes total for rare.
Remove from the grill when the temperature reaches 123 degrees, or higher if you prefer your steak more well-done.
If you’ve purchased a smaller porterhouse that weighs about 2 pounds, grill for 20 to 30 minutes total.
Use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness: A rare steak will read 125 degrees; medium-rare, 135.
Let the steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
While the steak is resting, put the lemon halves on the grill, cut side down, over direct heat until the flesh has grill marks and the lemons are warmed through, 5 minutes.
To serve, slice the steak off the bone into individual portions.
Serve hot, topped with a shaving of the White Anchovy and Truffle Butter (use a vegetable peeler to shave the butter, cutting across the length of the cold log of butter) and a grilled lemon half on the side for squeezing over the steak.
White Anchovy and Truffle Butter
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature 2 white or regular anchovies in oil, or more if needed 1 to 2 teaspoons white truffle oil, or to taste Coarse sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon, if needed 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, minced
Put the butter in a medium- size bowl.
In a shallow non-reactive bowl, mash the anchovies with the back of a fork until they resemble a paste. Add the truffle oil to the anchovies and mix with the fork.
Work this paste into the softened butter. Taste and adjust the amount of truffle oil, if desired.
The butter should be salted enough by the anchovies. If not, add sea salt or another mashed anchovy to the butter until it tastes right.
Mix in the minced parsley, then drop the butter in spoonfuls in a row on a large piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper.
Roll the butter mixture up in the wrap and smooth it out to form a log about 4 inches long. Twist the ends to seal and refrigerate until ready to use, at least 2 hours. Cut the butter into coin-size pieces or shave with a vegetable peeler directly onto hot or warm food to season.
This recipe will make more than you need, but if it is well wrapped, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week and in the freezer for 1 month.
Note: If the anchovies are brined or packed in a vinegar solution, they will be harder to mash with a fork. First, cut them with a knife or snip them with kitchen scissors, and then mash them in a bowl.