By Lucas Witman
When a guest walks into Urban Butcher, a co-located restaurant and specialty meats shop in Silver Springs, Md., he or she is greeted by a giant glass wall revealing the store’s expansive meat cellar. Customers marvel at loins of pork, sides of beef, salamis and more, all hanging prominently, begging to be admired. It is immediately clear that the owners of any shop where aging meat is displayed as if it were fine art are deeply passionate about the craft of butchery. And listening to Head Butcher Matt Levere discuss his love of the craft, it is impossible not to become infected with a similar appreciation for the skill and creativity that go into producing gourmet specialty meats.
“It’s so much fun as a butcher and as a chef – learning and creating,” said Levere. “When you’re putting these things out to customers and coming up with brand new items, it’s an experience for them as well.”
Started just a few short months ago in December 2013, Urban Butcher has quickly made a name for itself as the place to go in the Washington, D.C.-area for expertly crafted raw meat and charcuterie. However, it is the fact that Urban Butcher operates simultaneously as a butcher shop, a retail space and a full-service restaurant, that makes this space particularly unique.
In terms of drawing in customers, Urban Butcher benefits from the fact that it brings in both restaurant guests and grocery shoppers. However, very often, guests who come in to eat at the restaurant end up leaving with a filled grocery bag. And those who come in to pick up a steak end up sticking around for a gourmet meal. This is because, as the restaurant utilizes the meats directly from the butcher case, impressed dinner guests are encouraged to take the product home to experiment with in their own kitchens. And for shoppers seen marveling at the butcher shop offerings, the store offers to take the product into the restaurant’s kitchen where it can be immediately cooked up and served for dinner.
From a logistical standpoint, Levere argues that there is a unique benefit to operating a retail shop in conjunction with a restaurant. At Urban Butcher, product moves fast and is continually replenished. “It’s awesome, because we can sell our products in the retail case and also in the restaurant. Everything we butcher goes right into the menu,” Levere said. “Everything is always fresh … It’s nice to see that aspect of it. It helps move product.”
For Levere, who has worked in restaurant kitchens and grocery store meat departments, he finds his work at Urban Butcher, which combines elements of both positions, as particularly rewarding. This is because, for him, when a chef and a butcher work together, they can create magic. “I think it’s a great relationship between the chef and I, because I know how to butcher so well. I know meat like the back of my hand and that’s what I specialize in. Here’s a guy that has been cooking for his entire life. And he knows that like the back of his hand,” he said. For Levere, butchery is truly an artform. And by combining his technical expertise with the chef’s creative vision, Urban Butcher is able to offer its customers something they would never find anywhere else.
The specialty meats offered at Urban Butcher are endless, and the store is constantly adding innovative new products to its meat cases. There is hickory-smoked bacon, handmade salami, pâté, prosciutto, sausage and marinated chicken. The store produces a broad selection of authentic European charcuterie, including lomo, bresola, filleto and more. And the shop’s 30-day aged beef short loin and aged ribeyes are cut to order, allowing the customer to choose the precise thickness that best meets his or her needs.
One standout among Urban Butcher’s offerings is a unique Greek sausage called loukanika. Levere argues that if one is to try only a single product from the store’s meat case, it is that one. “The loukanika is outstanding,” he said. “It’s a spicy lamb salami with flavors of fennel and orange zest. You get the fennel and then you get the orange immediately. And then right at the end the cayenne pepper hits your tongue. It’s a really nice experience.”
Urban Butcher focuses on sourcing all of its meat from local farms, including Autumn Olive Farms in Virginia, Creek View Farms in West Virginia, Piemonte Farms in Maryland and Shenandoah Meat Co-op in the Shenandoah Valley. For Levere, the quality of the animals is immediately apparent in the butchered product. “The quality is incredibly better than anything we can get anywhere else. The supermarket does not compare. The flavor is so much better. The customer can really tell the difference between the massively bred animals compared to the small batch animals,” he said. In addition, because the animals are all pasture-raised by small farmers, customers can feel confident that the salamis they are snacking on are made from animals that led stress-free lives.
Although currently enjoying its first year in operation, Urban Butcher has big plans for its future life. The store is currently expanding into local farmers markets, bringing its products to shoppers all over the D.C. area. In addition, Levere said the store also has plans to expand physically, eventually opening up a new, larger butcher production area.
For those who think a steak is a steak and a salami is a salami, Urban Butcher works to show its customers that a great deal of craft is involved in producing these items. When a skilled butcher and a skilled chef are involved, an animal can be transformed in any number of ways. According to Levere, “If you really understand the animal and what it has to offer, the possibilities are endless.”