queen east butchers showdown/essay
OK, there's been a fair amount of discussion about the various butchers that have cropped up on queen east over the last 12 months or so and, having been away from this forum for a while, i feel like i've missed out on some worthwhile heated debates.
so, instead of posting in a variety of older threads I've decided to drop my opinion on the ones I've spent money at as a starting point for further discussion of others' experiences.
I'll go from west to east:
Ok, I'm starting off badly. There's at least one butcher shop somewhere east of yonge on Queen that I haven't tried yet, but I'm pretty sure it's west of the DVP. East of the DVP is there anything I'm forgetting before Logan?
Rowe Farms: From what I can tell there is a consensus here lamenting the quality and price at Rowe Farms, with special moaning reserved for a perceived decline in quality since John Rowe went corporate and sold his business to investors. I couldn't disagree more. Since they opened I've had nothing but excellent quality from the Leslieville market. Better quality and more upscale than their barren industrial strip mall outlet in Guelph. I primarily buy ribeye and strip loin steaks from them and I've yet to have a bad one. A huge slab seems to run me $10-$18 (depending on size and a seemingly fluctuating market price). The pork I've had has also been excellent. There is a price premium for sure, but compared to Loblaws, I think it's worth it. While Cumbrae's lamb is excellent, I've never enjoyed their steaks and the price is about the same as Rowe. So there. I like Rowe farms and think it easily rivals the almighty Cumbraes. My only complaint is that they NEVER have lamb, but they claim that's because they insist on only fresh, never frozen cuts.
Lady & Son (RIP): I had a rocky start with these guys. As others have posted, Lady is excellent, whereas Son is not so good. He had a great demeanor but his knowledge was seriously lacking. At the beginning the quality was spotty but after six months in business I had forgiven them. Their lack of stock often disappointed me. Often times I'd go in with a specific cut in mind and have to venture elsewhere to get it. When they did have what I wanted, it was often excellent. They weren't as fastidious as The Healthy Butcher about exploiting organic as they could have been, but I was assured their suppliers were small operations with the best intentions, even without certification. The Kerr farms strip lions were almost always well cut and delicious. Better than any Cumbrae's steak I've ever had. Also had some excellent short ribs. Her chicken never appealed to me. Seemed fresh enough but too gamy. Something about the grain they were fed? Maybe I'm too used to bland supermarket chicken. Overall, I give them a B+. Hopefully their new location will offer more reliable stock and quality.
Meat-ing on Queen (George's). Worst. Name. Ever. Just terrible. The name and the sign made me want to avoid it at all costs, but due to L&S's poor stock I did have to check it out a couple of times. I guess they've sort of fixed the name problem now. While the cases are a horn of plenty, the quality did not impress me. Nothing looks particularly appetizing. Personally, I find the counter at Loblaw's more appealing. Prices are cheap, but representative of the quality. I've had their chicken (inoffensive) and their lamb (unappealing). None of the steaks looked good enough to risk a meal on, but I've never tried them so can't give a definitive verdict. Call me uptight, but I find the big screen TV and the kid in the do-rag particularly off-putting. Maybe I'm just a snob and find the whole approach of this place isn't 'upscale' enough. At the very least, unlike L&S, it feels much more like a business than a passion, much like the counter at Loblaws (which, incidentally, has had some great cuts of lamb recently!).
Meat-on-the-beach. I've only been in a couple of times. Impressive display and good prices. Is there a relationship between these guys and George's? I recall reading that somewhere. Despite the bountiful display, I was disappointed both times. First with underwhelming rack-of-lamb (maybe my own fault for choosing an overly oily marinated version) and then with very run-of-the-mill ribeyes. This place isn't close enough for me to shop regularly, so it's unlikely I'll give it the chance it deserves.
I'll give Blackstone's special mention. Even though it's not on queen it is new(ish). I've only been there once and had amazing montreal smoked meat and great marinated chicken (all organic and all very well priced). The one steak I got wasn't great, but I'd definitely go back and try them again. Like MOTB, a little too far to shop there every week.