Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bichelmeyer Meats: A Carnivore's Amusement Park

If you know anything about Midwesterners, it's that we take our meat very seriously. I'm willing to bet that the north-south axis from North Dakota to Texas probably holds the lowest numbers of vegetarians (or vegans, God forbid) than anywhere else in the country. And no wonder -- we're surrounded by farms, ranches, feedlots and slaughterhouses that help deliver beef and pork to the rest of the world.

Much of the industry is of course is run by ultra-efficient "corporate farms." There's been plenty of ink devoted to either demonizing or deifying those operations, and I'm not about to jump into that tarbaby of a debate here. Whatever the case may be, it's an undeniable truth that the butcher has gotten short shrift. Hell, at most grocery stores, that pimply-faced kid behind the meat counter wouldn't know a pork butt if one hit him in the head.

Not so at Bichelmeyer Meats in Kansas City, Kansas. It's located in Argentine, which can most politely be described as a blighted neighborhood. But once inside Bichelmeyer, it's apparent that regardless of language, skin color, or economic status, everyone is united in life, liberty, and the pursuit of meat.

This is an old-school butcher if there ever was one. No cryovac or modified atmosphere packaging here -- flesh from cattle and pigs is cut to order. Each item is wrapped in butcher paper, tied with twine, and labeled with grease pencil. If it moos, oinks, or clucks, Bichelmeyer's sells it -- from pork bellies (that I use for my bacon), to pig maws, to pre-marinated adobada, to the somewhat disturbing but tasty cabeza de res.

The place is run by Jim and Joe Bichelmeyer, whose family opened their doors back in 1946. They're friendly, happy men -- and prone to showing the place off. On our first visit, during Urban Photo Safari, the kids were happily snapping pictures of the meat cases (try doing that in most grocery stores) when we were invited to see the meat locker. It was an amazing sight -- dozens of whole pigs and sides of beef aging and waiting patiently for their time to fill the meat case. (My kids, incidentally, were fascinated and not grossed out -- a fact I was particularly proud of.)
Every time we go, there's a new surprise. On Saturdays, at one end of the building, senoritas sell delicious carne asada, brisket, chorizo, and buche tacos that are as authentic as you'd find at a Guadalajara taqueria. Just last weekend, we noticed a heated case behind the cash registers -- upon closer inspection, they were selling fresh pork tamales and carnitas -- which became yesterday's lunch.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up around markets just like this.
    Wish there were more of them.
    Hope Dutchman's hangs on!