Not long ago, I went to Dominick’s to get some soup bones. I figured I could get them from the butcher there…but there’s no butcher there. Many big stores and chains receive their meat pre-cut from centralized butchering locations. Costco is the rare exception in that they actually have white-aproned butchers on-site. Blue Ribbon Meat Market is also a rarity in that it’s a traditional butcher store where the art of meat cutting is still practiced every day.
Ron Savino’s family has owned Blue Ribbon Meat Market in Oak Park for over thirty years, and they still do the butcher business the old-fashioned way – by actually cutting meat in their store.
We went in last Saturday to order a fresh leg of lamb for Easter. Savino counseled us to go with domestic rather than Australian lamb (grain fed, thus more marbled and tasty), and he offered to custom cut the leg and tie it in half to fit on my smoker.
Blue Ribbon Meat Market carries traditional cuts (steaks, chops) as well as less traditional cuts (turducken); the customer-service oriented team seems very willing to special order items as necessary.
When we showed an interest in his home-made sausage, which accounts for most of the sausage in the display case, Savino gave us a two lamb sausages to sample. These sausages had a good spice level (just a little heat) and the lamb flavor came through quite clearly. Full of lush fat, they caramelize nicely when griddled in a cast iron pan.
We used to go regularly to the Villager on Chicago Avenue. Recently, we’ve visited the Butcher and Larder (1026 N. Milwaukee), a new butcher shop that is leading a growing movement back to small-scale butchering that had all but disappeared from the urban landscape.
From the outside, Blue Ribbon Meat Market is not going to catch your eye: there’s a funky, generic yellow sign above the door (original equipment, I’m guessing) and the windows are filled with hand-lettered signs for pork, chicken and other meats. In the summer, a tree in front obscures the storefront, and with traffic sometimes heavy at the intersection of Austin and Lake, I’m guessing a lot of potential customers drive right past without giving the place a second thought.
We chatted with Savino as we were leaving. He asked how long we’d lived in Oak Park. We said about 25 years. So he asked, “How come you never came in here before?”
We had no good answer.
What experiences have you had with Blue Ribbon Meat Market?
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