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Could Athens, GA, support an "indie" butcher shop?

Flipping through the Saveur 100 issue and saw the squib about indie-punk butchers. It's long been my feeling that Athens is lacking in the meat department, and I wonder if enough people would patronize a real butcher shop here to make it worthwhile business-wise? It doesn't have to be a fancy one with completely "sustainable" grass-fed this and that (for which the local CSAs are probably good enough)—just a plain old meat shop where you can get good thick pork chops cut to order, lamb, game (even frozen—say, quail), maybe dry-aged beef for special occasions. I'll admit that the Ingles I go to (near Hull) is pretty good, and the fellows at the East Side Publix have been great about cutting to order, as well as special-ordering things like sweetbreads and such, but wouldn't a dedicated meat store be just grand?

And while I'm fantasizing, how about a good fishmonger? I've never managed to hit the Baxter Street seafood stores when they've been open for business, and didn't one recently close for good anyway? I've gotten good—if very expensive—meat and fish at Earth Fare, but have been pretty consistently disappointed in the store's selection and in the staff's general laziness and unreliability (if you've ever tried to order something in advance, or even find out what they'll have available on a given day, you might know what I mean).

But if EF, in the heart of Five Points, isn't motivated to improve, would any other place be successful? My husband says there might not be a large enough professional class in Athens to support a good butcher shop. I think you don't have to be rich to want to throw something nice on your grill every once in a while (although maybe the "once in a while" is the problem). What do you think?

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  1. Tough call. Both of the Baxter seafood shops closed, which doesn't bode well for a stand alone butcher either. But I agree, aside from going to EF or getting to know your butcher, meat selection is weak or expensive in Athens.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Dax

      1. That both seafood shops on Baxter closed would not bode well for a LOUSY butcher. Both of those places were just awful.

      2. The Grillmaster has been open on Epps Bridge for years. It's not exactly what Liana is describing, but I think it provides ample evidence that a trained butcher can do well here.

      1. re: littlecsr

        Please tell me more about Grillmaster; I've never heard of it.

        1. re: Dax

          Go to grillmaster.net. He also usually has something at the Taste of Athens, which is at the end of the month.

          I've not bought a whole lot there, but have always been very pleased with his lamb chops when he has them.

          1. re: littlecsr

            I thought Grillmaster was more of a prepared foods place than a butcher shop, but I've yet to stop in there. I've been meaning to check it out, though.

            1. re: Liana Krissoff

              Anything that you can buy prepared, you can also by raw.

              As I said earlier though, its not quite what you described at the top of the screen.

    2. There's actually a decent organic butcher shop in Winder called Bentley's. I've gotten a pork loin and a bunny (albeit frozen), and both were quite tasty.

      They are... very enthusiastic, and the owner was helpful both times. Prices seemed decent for organic meat (no where near the horror that is the Whole Foods butchery), and everything looked fresh.

      And, there's always http://athens.locallygrown.net , which is just cool anyway. Looks like there are listings for assorted lamb and beef cuts. Not exactly a butcher shop, but worth a try. I've got my eye on a leg of lamb for an upcoming dinner.

      1. I'm not sure if Athens could support it. I was crushed when I learned that one could not get fresh soft-shell crab in Athens in the summertime, and it looks like the meat and fish situation is only getting worse. Athens-Clarke County is one of the poorest in Georgia, so businesses like a nice butcher shop (and restaurants/food stores in general) really have to directly market to the university population. There are enough culinarily-inclined professionals and professors to sustain places like Gosford Wine and The Rolling Pin, but unlike these types of businesses, a butcher shop cannot afford to leave any inventory in the store for multiple days at a time. I don't think Athens has a very large young professional population, unlike some other college towns like Chapel Hill, NC for instance (which has a wonderful butchershop and fishmonger). Unfortunately, this means that the businesses that tend to survive are bars and restaurants that serve cheap food made from cheap ingredients.

        I would love some more options, however. I get a lot of my meat from the mexican carniceria on barber st - they have shrimp fresher than the kroger or publix here, as well as various (sometimes comically fatty) cuts of beef.

        3 Replies
        1. re: batdown

          I love the carniceria. After bantering back and forth in stunted English and Spanish, with lots of pointing to body parts to show them what I want, they always ask if I want the foot attached to my picnic ham. Of course I want the foot. I also thinks it's awesome to watch them unload whole frozen pigs out of the back of a truck. And unfortunately we can't sustain small butchers and fishmongers.

          1. re: batdown

            108 out of 159 is actually a lot lower than I thought Athens was for household income.


            Also, Chapel Hill also has the benefit of being part of the Research Triangle area including Raleigh, Durham and Cary, which greatly increase population (even just considering Durham and Cary plus CH you're at a population of 400,000+ which is almost 4x ACC) plus UNC, Duke and a host of smaller colleges and the RTP business, the area attracts even more professionals than Athens could sustain. Not apples and oranges but McIntoshes and Granny Smiths at best.

            1. re: Dax

              Fascinating website—thanks, Dax; I know what I'll be doing today. Sounds like it's the ATL and the carniceria for us, at least for the time being. Would the proposed med school on Prince help the situation, or would it just drive out the carniceria and its Latino neighbors? I guess med students don't necessarily have the time or the disposable income to go around buying meat and fish from special places, but maybe the actual doctors would? Ah, who knows.

          2. I'll chime in and concur with the general sentiment here. Athens seems doomed to remaining primarily a college town for the foreseeable future. That implies many things, among them a very small likelihood that a proper fish monger or butcher could find any real traction. As the college kids go, so goes Athens, and there ain't too many UGA students clamoring for high-quality raw meats....

            Comparing Athens with the Triangle area of N.C. is truly a waste of time. Worlds apart, as are the respective states. Nothing in common aside from a shared language.

            8 Replies
            1. re: uptown jimmy

              You guys don't think that restaurant sales alone could keep a good butcher afloat?

              I know of more than one restaurateur that really wanted to use Athens Fish Market, but they just weren't very good. I personally had been there more than once, but never bought anything because the selection and service was so lousy.

              It just seems to me that if Earthfare can get away with what they charge for meat and fish ($19/lb. Tuna last weekend), someone could make a living here.

              1. re: littlecsr

                It's a fair question, but no, I don't think that most restaurants in Athens are serving the sort of food that would motivate them to purchase really high-quality meats, seafood, and cheeses. Most of the up-market places are really just masquerading as such, really. I wish it were different.

                Even in the case of an Athens restaurant serving good quality food, beef and pork are not necessarily the dominant themes on the menu. And seafood is ALWAYS going to be a bit of a problem in areas far from the coast, except in the case of really high-end joints like 5&10 where you pay the price required to eat that well.

                I do think one of Earth Fare's strong points is seafood, expensive as it may be. I have been unimpressed with the quality of the beef they sell. We got a ribeye there a while back and it was just awful.

                1. re: uptown jimmy

                  If nothing else, I'm not willing to invest the money to prove you wrong. So I must at least think that you're "a little" right!!

                  I, too, have had terrible steak from Earth Fare, but in fairness, my wife picked up the best NY strip that I've ever seen there this weekend. Taste was perfect.

                  The seafood is great, but without having anything to compare it against, I suspect we're getting raped on the price.

                  1. re: littlecsr

                    Their pricing seemed roughly in line with Whole Foods and the like the last time I was there.

                    1. re: littlecsr

                      Yes, I've gotten excellent NY strip at Earth Fare, and good (if very expensive) tuna I used for tartare. I'd like to see more interesting offerings in the seafood department, though: more whole fish, e.g. And once I asked for halibut and they said it'd cost $30/pound; I was being reimbursed for this so I said okay, please order a bunch for me—but then the day rolled around and it turned out no one had ordered it, and I was just out of luck. (Explanation: The person I'd talked to on the phone about this order several times didn't even work there! And I was given a dressing-down from the person who does work there about wanting to eat a less-than-"sustainable" species. That kind of thing I can do without.)

                      1. re: Liana Krissoff

                        You must be kidding!!

                        I've never really had bad service there, but if that happened to me, it would be the last time that I (apparently tried) to shop there.

                2. re: uptown jimmy

                  I wouldnt go that far. I lived in chapel hill for about 15 years before i moved to athens in 2006, and i think there are substantial similarities between the two towns. in fact, i have frequent deja vu walking around downtown athens because of the nearly identical look and feel to franklin street in CH. but yeah, chapel hill harbors a much smaller university, and more natives without university ties due to the proximity of the rtp. Rainbow was around for a long time before it closed, was it not? I'm not sure it closed due to the lack of demand for fish and seafood; in fact I suspect it may have closed because of their pitiful selection and strange location (put near five points, where the professors all live).

                  1. re: batdown

                    The Triangle is not comprised solely of Chapel Hill, as you know. And the area is vastly different from Athens in far too many ways to list here, but the food scene is one of the obvious ones...

                  1. re: hacheson

                    Please elaborate Mr.H.A.! I'd really like to hear your take on it.

                  2. The other day I noticed a sign in the window of what used to be Athens Seafood, on Baxter Street: Experienced meat cutters wanted. Is this what it sounds like? Anybody know anything about what might be in the works for that spot? Next time I go by there I'll take down the phone number and call it.

                    17 Replies
                    1. re: Liana Krissoff

                      The guy who owns the place had a post for about 5 minutes before it was taken down. He was specifically replying to this thread but could no longer find it. According to the thread, he will be open in mid-April, and while I don't remember the specifics, prices were insanely cheap for (according to him) very high quality meat.

                      We'll see.

                      1. re: gashrink

                        I hope this works out. We ducked into a place in Charleston called Ted's Butcher Block a few months back, and it was a revelation. Duck, wagyu beef, various nasty bits, they had the works.

                        I would patronize a local butcher weekly if the product was top-notch. Fish and meat shopping in Athens is pitiful at this point, just absolutely unacceptable. We bought a ribeye at Earth Fare last year that was barely edible.

                        Bring the good stuff!

                        1. re: uptown jimmy

                          Grillmaster tried, but then sort of became something else.
                          It would be really nice to have a place that the county and surrounding
                          counties could support so that the butcher shop would be able
                          to stock and keep in rotation a big selection of meats, whole animal,
                          etc. My grandfather had a general store with butcher shop and I learned
                          to break down whole pigs and cows early in life. He was done in by
                          age and all purpose grocery stores. We did have Matthews butcher shop and grocers outside downtown Tucker, and they were the best for the next twenty years.
                          It does make a difference to have fresh meat. As White Oak Pastures is beginning to spread out it would be amazing to have grass fed local beef.

                          It's just that after two local fish houses, they tried but the demand
                          was not enough for them maintain the freshest of stock, and the
                          passing of Grillmaster, it does seem as if the answer is No.

                          But, No is too wicked forever, and we really really do need a good
                          fish house and butcher shop. Wilfongs lasted for decades until
                          they deteriorated and faded into memory and Civic Center land.
                          (Wilfongs was a fish house downtown that was part of old Athens
                          scene. They did a good job, but as time passed it became something
                          of a low end thing, good fish, just not popular fish.)
                          If we want them we must buy from them. Demand the good stuff.
                          Small businesses can make but the fight is against chains
                          and big box places. And of course, money. Money and

                          1. re: Lamar

                            Fish is just so much harder to sell than meat. More than a few days and it's really not so good anymore. And we were treated pretty poorly at that place on Baxter, never mind the place stank of fish, which ain't a good sign.

                            One of our favorite spots in the world is the Outer Banks in N.C., and one fish monger, Risky Business in Hatteras, is sort of the holy grail, just amazing fish, and such profound knowledge of fish. We don't even eat out when there. We take our propane camp burner and an All-Clad pan and eat like royalty in our hotel room. Just a little salt, pepper, and butter, and the fish just screams deliciousness. So fresh, just hours out of the sea.

                            I remember back in the early 70's, going to the butcher shop with Mom. The smell was amazing, just intoxicating, and the meat, of course, was wonderful. I routinely mourn the demise of the neighborhood butcher shop. Let's hope these guys do well in Athens...

                            1. re: uptown jimmy

                              I've been wanting to try to make marrow bones, and I'm hoping these guys will be the ones to hook me up. We'll see.

                              1. re: AmyWatts

                                Me too! That sort of thing is right up my alley. Luuuuv the nasty bits.

                                1. re: AmyWatts

                                  The Eastside Publix has marrow bones in the frozen meat section. They are really cheap too.

                                  1. re: Awall25

                                    Oooh. Thanks for the tip. Maybe I'll do a comparison/taste test.

                            2. re: uptown jimmy

                              I went into Simply Meats, the new place on Baxter, today, and came out really happy. They have a rib roast dry-aging in a cooler with a sign saying it'll be available June 20—reserve some steaks now. Things looked good there, and the prices were very reasonable. I didn't get much, and can't report on its quality yet, but I'll be back when I'm done with a recipe-testing job I'm in the middle of now and can buy whatever kind of meat I want! The proprietors seem to want to offer us the world, and would probably be open to special-ordering unusual things. Closed Sunday and Monday.

                              1. re: Liana Krissoff

                                I also went this weekend. The prices cannot be beat in the area. I went on a Saturday, which is the day that they get rid of the week's stock (they advised that Fridays are one of the best days to go for selection).

                                All of the meat (chicken, Boston butt, NY Strip, bacon, and sausage) that we purchased was very good (especially considering the price). This will be where we do most, if not all, of our meat purchases from now on.

                                By they way, they also told me that they can get marrow bones pretty easily.

                                1. re: Liana Krissoff

                                  I've never bought meat anywhere except chain groceries before. We went to Simply Meats today and got a tri-tip steak for the grill. Seriously, it was transcendental.

                                  The prices were competitive with (if not clearly better than) grocery stores in town, and the staff was knowledgeable and very friendly. They have a "freezer pack" deal going--you get a selection of different kinds of meat to take home and freeze, and save about 1/3 off of what they would sell it for separately (which, as I mentioned, is already pretty low).

                                  I really recommend giving this place a shot. My husband and I usually divide down the stereotypical gender lines at dinner, with him eating most of the protein and me eating most of the carbs. But I would have stabbed his hand with my fork if he tried taking more than his share of that steak!

                                  1. re: nyom_nyom_nyom_de_plume

                                    I didn't know about the freezer pack option—that sounds worthwhile, especially since I live about half an hour outside town.

                                    Had a NY strip steak from there the other night, just grilled quickly with salt and pepper. It was very good. Nice and thick, too, like 2 inches, so you could get a good black-and-blue thing going.

                                    Saturday afternoon is probably not the best time to go, since they're closed on Sundays and Mondays and wouldn't want to carry too much stock over to Tuesday. I guess the weekend is when people do their grilling, though.

                                    1. re: Liana Krissoff

                                      Saturday, they are only open to clear out the week's stock, and they close once they have sold out. The owner told me that Friday and Tuesday are the best days to go.

                                  2. re: Liana Krissoff

                                    Went to Simply Meats on Saturday afternoon. The selection was pretty scant, as apparently they'd been bought out of most everything over the course of the day. Glad they appear to be doing good business. They don't have hard to find meats like duck breast or veal, but (before they're sold out) they have a nice selection of beef and pork, including oxtail, many kinds of ribs, and several different roasts. The place is clean and the proprietors are knowledgeable and friendly. The prices are very competitive, and the steak we got was excellent. If the quality, cleanliness, and pricing keep up, we will do most of our meat shopping there from now on. I really hope they continue to draw in customers -- Athens needs more businesses like these.

                                    1. re: slave_to_the_passions

                                      Well, well. I was ALSO in there on Saturday and got a very good ribeye that made a tasty meal Saturday night.

                                      They had, but I did not purchase, "streak o lean" which I've never seen in person before.

                                    2. re: Liana Krissoff

                                      Does Simply Meats, or any other place in town for that matter, have really good, natural casing hotdogs? Either in house or one of the better national brands (not Hebrew National). I'd even take Boar's Head at this point, which I hear makes a great natural casing dog.

                                      1. re: Dax

                                        I saw Boar's Head natural casing dogs in the refrigerated section under the deli case at the Kroger on Alps and Baxter.

                                2. Aside from "Simply Meats" on Baxter, there really is no other place, (other than the usual grocery stores), to buy meat in Athens. I can't imagine the idea of more than one Butcher Shop surviving in Athens due to the ever increasing vegetarian population in this Town. The "Vegans" are taking over! (LOL!)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: dfayathens

                                    I asked about this before Simply Meats had opened, and now, very sadly, it's closed. Really too bad. I've read that there's a new meat place in front of the Carmike movie theater on Oconee St. Has anyone been there? I think I saw it in what used to be like an ice cream place?