One afternoon, Patrick Gebrayel pulled a hefty hunk of prime ribeye from behind a shiny glass case at Heywood’s Provision Company and pushed it toward a customer’s face.
“Look how beautiful this is,” Gebrayel said to the startled man. “This is USDA Certified Angus Beef.”
Gebrayel — a Culinary Institute of America graduate and the former executive chef at Dunwoody Country Club — opened the east Cobb artisan butcher and food shop in July to pursue his passion for quality products and interest in making sausages and cured meats.
One of the hottest food trends of recent years, the butcher shop is back and better than ever. Maybe it never really went away?
In business since 1947, Shields Meat Market in Emory Village calls itself “the original old-fashioned butcher shop.” Open since 1981, Patak Meat Products in Austell has gained a loyal following that lines up to buy its European-style meats and sausages.
But Heywood’s is part of a new wave of chef-driven butcher shops with a decidedly culinary bent.
Like many of the classically trained chefs around the country who have turned to "cutting and curing" meats, Gebrayel has been a longtime proponent of the “farm to fork” movement and its natural extension — whole animal butchery, which aims to “use everything,” turning scraps and offal into Lebanon bologna or duck confit or even more esoteric delicacies like cured pork jowls or smoked beef tongue.
And more than an outlet for his chefy imagination, Heywood’s provides Gebrayel a bully pulpit for his beliefs.
“These days, a lot more people want to know where their food comes from,” Gebrayel said, as he walked to the front of another case and pointed inside.
“For us, knowing that chicken came from White Oak Pastures in South Georgia or that pork came from Riverview Farms in North Georgia is really important. Not many meat cutters can say they’ve actually walked on the farm where the animal comes from.”
Heywood’s is a state-of-the-art facility, USDA certified for retail and wholesale business, and it sells its products to local restaurants, such as the new Seed Kitchen & Bar in East Cobb.
But Gebrayel said it’s also a throwback to a time when people knew their butcher and didn’t buy meat encased in plastic and Styrofoam. Providing personalized service is what distinguishes small neighborhood shops from the supermarket chains, he said.
"We try to give people information. If somebody comes in and invests $150 in a big chunk of prime rib, they want to have a good result. We not only cut it, we can tell them how to cook it."
Parker Patton started cutting meat in 1986, at the age of 14, in his father’s market in Lilburn. Seven years later, he opened Patton’s Meat Market in Duluth.
One recent morning, the shop's butchering area was a blur of activity. Behind a neat row of glass counters, Patton and his energetic young crew were all busy cutting chicken, pork and beef, grinding hamburger and making sausages.
"Everything here is 100-percent fresh-cut every day," Patton said. "It’s not in a package with a date on it. The date is today. When you look inside my counters, it won’t be there tomorrow.”
Patton’s is the only meat market to be nominated for grocer of the year by the Georgia Department of Agriculture — in fact, it was nominated three times.
In the years since he opened, Patton as seen some big changes in what customers want.
“Customers are more aware of quality now,” he said. “People are lot more into cooking at home. And I’ll know when something’s been on the Food Network.
"I’ve had more people looking for things like veal bones to make stock, and even foie gras. They’re braising short ribs and cooking things we never heard of before, like skirt steak and flat iron steak.”
Whatever kind of meat he sells, Patton preaches what he calls “the right cut.”
“There’s a difference between the way a grocery store cuts and a meat market cuts,” Patton said. “Many of them ... don’t trim meat as closely as we do. We could cut steaks and leave a lot of fat and gristle and even lower the price. But I know when you get home and cook that steak, you’re going to be cursing me.”
SIDEBAR: Four neighborhood butchers
Heywood’s Provision Company. Artisan butcher shop, offering USDA Prime Certified Angus Beef, local and grass-fed beef, pork and poultry, Georgia seafood, house-made sausages and a wide variety of smoked and cured meats, plus sauces and rubs. 2145 Roswell Road, Suite 140, Marietta. 404-410-7997, www.heywoodsmeat.com
Patton’s Meat Market. Family-owned neighborhood butcher shop, offering USDA Prime Certified Angus Beef, premium chicken, pork, lamb and veal, house-made sausages, seafood and produce, plus private label sauces and rubs. 3931 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Duluth. 770-495-0077, www.pattonsmeatmarket.com
Shield’s Meat Market. Old-fashioned butcher shop open since 1947, offering aged, organic and grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, veal, poultry and seafood, as well as cheese, sausages, cured and deli meats, produce, specialty items and wine. 1554 N. Decatur Road, Emory Village. 404-377-0204,www.agedbeef.com
Patak Meat Products. European-style butcher shop specializing in sausages, smoked and dry-cured products, but also sells fresh-cut beef, pork, chicken, plus seafood and a variety of imported products, including cheese, chocolate, cookies, cakes and condiments. 4107 Ewing Road, Austell. 770-941-7993, www.patakmeats.com