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Comparing quality butchers in the 'burbs, 2011

PREFACE: there's no recent thread on this subject that's helpful to the Greater Chowmind of Toronto to make actual comparative purchasing decisions. I don't make the rules but I'd love to get information on prices, animal feed, locality, cuts, etc. with some semblance of direct comparability.

I'll take a quick look at Famu below. I'll be returning, but can anyone come up with some alternatives, especially in East or North Toronto? I'm not a snob; if there's a good butcher in a supermarket that will do good beef, pork, or lamb to my instructions, I would love to know about it. I think many of us consumers have little time for shady practices and/or not displaying prices, so I hope this can help.

Some places I know precious little about that I'd like to directly compare: The Healthy Butcher, Meat on the Beach, The Village Butcher, Gasparro's, BlossumPure, Grace, The Butcher Shoppe. I'm also personally interested in insight into Toronto's Halal options for Western-style cuts.

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The Healthy Butcher
565 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V, CA

Meat on the Beach
1860 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4L, CA

Butcher Shoppe
121 Shorncliffe Rd, Toronto, ON M8Z, CA

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  1. To start: I just fed two others an enormous, bone-in ribeye from Famu on Steeles and Woodbine. It was delicious. The shop, which specializes in Japanese cuts (and which is hidden in "J-Town"), claims to also do slightly more obscure Western cuts like hanger and flatiron, and is interested in customer feedback to a great degree I found. I love Cumbrae's, but it's far and its prices are inflated.

    Anyway, Famu has local and "naturally-raised" options, although this particular one I ate was a grass-fed steer from PEI that I'm told is a customer favourite that they frequently fly in from this farm over there. It was also dry-aged for something like 6 weeks and cut to my order without a huge rib sticking out.

    The price at the time was $4/100g., which I think is pretty good. But there's nowhere definitive that I can compare spring 2011 prices. I should mention Famu also offers a lot of Wagyu and Berkshire pork as well, but I don't claim to be an "expert" on that subject. For more on their current pricing: http://www.famu.ca/images/stories/wee...

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    Cumbrae's
    481 Church St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA

    7 Replies
    1. re: ThreeEm

      Healthy Butcher - tends to be the most expensive of the bunch, they have a price list online. They have good meat but too $ for my blood. Part of the mystique with shopping there is the branding too, people that shop that love to tell people they shop there. They get great specialty pork at times like Iron Age. Beef is grass fed, chicken is from Fenwood Farms I recall, which other retailers also sell for less.

      Cumbrae's - They run the beef game for restaurants, with good reason. You want good marbling beef dry aged to your specs, this is it. It's actually less expensive than Famu I find, slightly. They're naturally raised, not organic.

      Sanagan's - This is where I shop, naturally raised (not organic). Good selection of stuff, especially off cuts if you ask, like oxtail and such. Best balance for all the shops I find, not ultra expensive like HB. My roommate is fanatical about their sausages. I tend to buy pork from them mostly.

      Gasparro's - Their chicken reigns supreme, they started carrying berkshire pork w/i the last half year.

      Butcher Shoppe - I've only dealt w/ through the restaurant trade, most of the stuff is just standard commercial meat, neither organic or naturally raised. They do have an extensive inventory, of game cuts too, but again, that's my exposure through restaurant ordering.

      I also buy meats from Fiesta Farms also, their naturally raised chickens are often on sale at $2.79/lb. Good quality and price.

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      The Healthy Butcher
      565 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V, CA

      Cumbrae's
      481 Church St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA

      Fiesta Farms
      200 Christie St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA

      Butcher Shoppe
      121 Shorncliffe Rd, Toronto, ON M8Z, CA

      1. re: aser

        I actually don't mind the prices at HB; then again, I'm buying cuts like belly, jowl and fatback from them. Iron Age belly is only 4.99/lb if you skin it yourself (It's a dollar more/lb if they do it for you). Compare that to Cumbrae's, which charges 8.99/lb for their regular pork belly. Jowls are 2.49/lb (Berkshire and Iron Age) and fatback is .99/lb (for lardo, or sausages). Needless to say, I'm getting my charcuterie stuff from them, not the 1st rate cuts of meat like loins and ribeyes. The guys there are really good to me as well (I was told my piggies died today, and they'll be ready to cure on Thursday).

        One thing I noticed, is that on their online pricing list, they have a whole duck listed as $5/duck. Meanwhile a duck breast is $19.99/breast. I'm going to ask on Thursday, but if the prices are true, they're my new duck guys because that price is fantastic if you know how to break down poultry.

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        Cumbrae's
        481 Church St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA

        1. re: aser

          The Butcher Shoppe (I'm assuming you mean the one at Markham Rd and Kingston Rd) sells organic chicken and they age their beef on the premises. They were selling Kobe beef for awhile, not sure now. I usually buy my lamb from them (boneless leg - butterflied) and they're pretty consistent with the quality. They also offer pre-marinated cuts and roasts that they marinate themselves with their own recipe - I don't buy them as I find them too salty for my tastes. Overall I have found their meats to be very good quality, not the best but better than others, pricier than supermarket prices for some cuts, but cheaper than the high end butcher shops. Their lamb was Ontario lamb the last time I checked. Very friendly service and a wide selection of products.

          1. re: scarberian

            The Butcher Shop at Markham and K.R. is not the same as The Butcher Shoppe in the west end. Here is a previous discussion http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7601...

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            Butcher Shoppe
            121 Shorncliffe Rd, Toronto, ON M8Z, CA

            1. re: jayt90

              Thanks for the heads up jayT, although actually I never knew about the one in the west end. I thought the OP was talking about the Butcher Shop on Kingston Rd. and Markham Rd. As for pricing ThreeEm, I find them to be pricier than supermarket prices, but within the price range of most independent butchers. Their organic chicken is cheaper than Rowe farms, not by much but still cheaper and closer to home. Their website still says they sell Kobe beef although I haven't seen the Kobe signs in the store recently. They also sell eggs in the large flat uncovered cartons ala the old Knob Hill style. Forgot to mention before that they age their beef on the premises. They also have Cuddy roast beef cold cuts that they cut to order and they are good. They taste like beef and don't have that weird sheen like the ones you get at the supermarket delis. As I said before I usually get our lamb there and it's always been good. As for Halal there has to be a few butchers on Lawrence between Kennedy and Victoria Park. I've also seen independent butchers selling Halal meat in a small plaza just west of Kingston Rd and Lawrence as well along Lawrence and Markham. Never been inside them so maybe someone can fill in the blanks.

            2. re: scarberian

              Wow, I had no idea this Kingston Road place existed. That's pretty close to me; does anyone have information or knowledge on pricing at that store for comparison?

              1. re: ThreeEm

                I went to the Butcher Shop yesterday for my weekly meat purchases. I just noticed the lamb is organic. I also bought trout from them and I was surprised that their trout doesn't have that weird "dirty" taste that I usually get with trout from other places (I've bought trout from supermarkets, St. Lawrence fish mongers, and even ordered a trout dish from Le Select Bistro and each time it had this off putting "dirty" taste). I had given up on trout thinking it was the trout itself, but now I can add this to my palette =). I also got some chicken thighs and drumsticks and the wife and daughter enjoyed them. I know it sounds weird getting ones seafood from a butcher, but this is the place I usually get my salmon (nice and fatty and flavourful). You can also look at their windowed meat locker and the slabs of beef hanging as they age them on the premises. Nice colour to the beef.

        2. Skyland has Halal in trays but should be able to cut to order. http://www.skylandfoodmart.com/contac...
          T Phat in the old Knob Hill place, K.R. and Brock, has a Halal butcher counter separate from the regular meat.

          4 Replies
          1. re: jayt90

            Hey jayT how's the quality of meat at Skyland? My dad had recently visited the Skyland on Lawrence and Scarb. Golf Club but he only bought produce. He said the quality of the produce wasn't that great so I was wondering about the meat.

            1. re: scarberian

              I have had good beef short ribs, mussels, clams, and a rather tough brisket, not as marbled as I'd like.
              I think their seafood is good, nicely presented and fresh, with a friendly, eager server, but overall I prefer Soon Lee for pork, ducks, most produce, and some beef.

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              Soon Lee
              629 Markham Rd, Toronto, ON M1J, CA

              1. re: jayt90

                Do you know if Soon Lee sells duck breast or even just the leg?

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                Soon Lee
                629 Markham Rd, Toronto, ON M1J, CA

                1. re: scarberian

                  No, just the whole duck, head and feet still on. It is worthwhile to go to T&T at Steeles/Milliken for duck parts from Brome Lake., usually better than King Cole. They have frozen breasts and legs which have always been good. I like Brome Lake whole ducks at T&T beacuse they're tender and flavorful, and the owners never force feed any of their ducks.