More Pittsburgh restaurants are now handling their butchering in-house
Even during the height of summer, Dan Enedy wears a knit tossle cap at work.
No matter how hot it is outside, Enedy’s working conditions tend to be on the chilly side. He spends hours each day inside one of the Capital Grille’s refrigerators preparing perfect cuts of meat for the Downtown eatery’s diners and their discriminating palates.
“I’m free to do what I want in here,” Enedy says. “I like being able to create a bit. I know I’m cutting the same steak, but each piece is different.”
As consumers continue to show favor toward hyper-local products, more restaurants are beefing up their staff with on-site butchers or chefs who are practiced in the skill.
“As people begin to reconnect with food — which has been happening in a mainstream manner over the last decade or so — they have begun to ask different questions about their food,” says Adam Danforth, Oregon-based author of “Butchering Beef” and “Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat and Pork” (Storey, $24.95 each).
All Capital Grille meat is dry-aged for 24 days, says executive chef Travis Hall. Starting at 9 a.m. each day, Enedy cuts pieces into 24-ounce portions. His volume is based on the previous day’s sales and that night’s reservations.
Having a butcher to work with meat that’s been aged in-house enhances the quality of the Capital Grille’s signature dishes, Hall says.
“Drying out the meat gives it a more concentrated flavor and makes it more tender,” he says.
Across town at Legume in Oakland, chef-owner Trevett Hooper orders a whole grass-fed cow from Burns Angus Beef in New Wilmington, Lawrence County, three to four times a month. Alex Osgood, general manager of the restaurant, says the meat has already undergone USDA inspections at its initial processing facility. When it is sent to the restaurant it is often in quarters.
“It’s the secret to our Butterjoint hamburger,” says Hooper, referring to a menu option at Legume’s full-service bar. “People ask how it is so good. It’s not because we’re cooking it any special way. It’s because of how we grind it. It’s all meat and fat. There’s nothing mysterious in there.”
The man doing the grinding is Tyler Mossman, who has been butchering at Legume for two years. He learned from his peers and taught himself by reading veterinary manuals and studying online tutorials. He prepares meat for hamburgers, tartar and steaks daily and makes sausage several times a week.
Breaking the beast down can take some heavy lifting.
“Each cow weighs between 600 and 800 pounds, so you end up carrying a quarter of that at a time,” Mossman says.
Pittsburgh native Kevin Costa, chef-owner of Crested Duck in Beechview, lived in Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis before returning to his hometown to help with the family business.
His time away allowed him to explore the restaurant scene in other cities, including Chicago, so when he came back to the ‘Burgh, he knew that charcuterie would soon follow.
“I knew it was trendy, and Pittsburgh is usually maybe a step or two behind,” Costa says.
He soon learned that, while a few places in Pittsburgh were making their own product, he could differentiate himself by “working with proteins that aren’t all pork.” All of Costa’s products are from regional farms and completely antibiotic-free. He prepares meat for curing three days a week. Meats hang in the basement anywhere from 18 days to four months.
In the past few years, Costa has watched the charcuterie trend “explode.” The Crested Duck restaurant expanded from the popularity of his wholesale products.
“When we bought the building, we didn’t intend to be open to the public at all,” Costa says. “But it’s big enough that we can do dinner. It’s mostly because I like to cook.”
Justin Severino of Cure in Lawrenceville first was inspired to pursue butchering by his grandfather who worked in “an old-school butcher shop,” though Severino had no idea it would later become a main focus of his work.
“I didn’t go to culinary school because I wanted to be a butcher,” Servino says. “I wanted to be a chef. But after being in kitchen, I realized how much a part of me was a butcher. Every restaurant I worked in, I moved over to the butchering side. I tried to take jobs for pastry positions, but as soon as they realized I was good with meat, they’d say, ‘Go do that.’ ”
Severino soon started thinking seriously about where the animals he worked with came from, which led to an understanding about the importance of quality.
“The ingredients are always the most important thing,” he says.
Severino butchers and stores whole pigs at Marty’s Market, as Cure doesn’t provide enough room for the job. He cures and dries the meat at his restaurant. In cold months, Cure hosts whole-hog butchering demonstrations once a month. On a weekly basis, he gets chickens, eggs, squab, rabbits, goat, lamb and veal from several local farms. He doesn’t butcher beef because of space limitations.
When first studying butchering, Severino learned how overfeeding chickens leads to a liquid-filled pouch on their breasts — blisters from dragging around the excess weight. He learned about the danger of a grain diet to cows. The respect he gained for animals molded the way he approaches meat, he says.
Severino expects more people to turn to this way of thinking about food.
“I think, as humans, we do the opposite of what our parents did,” he says. “We’re going to do things differently. In culinary school; they taught us that we’d never have to butcher an animal. In the ’90s, that was the thing — everything was convenient. Everything showed up ready to go. As chefs and as consumers, we’ve seen where that’s brought us.”
Danforth says the key to taking the local movement from trend to longstanding practice is education of both the people who handle and serve food and their customers.
“It’s an easier topic to tackle when talking about vegetables — they’re either organic or not organic,” he says. “When it comes to animals, it’s a much more complicated topic. It’s taken a while for people to become familiar with the vernacular associated with animal husbandry and purchasing clean meat.”
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or [email protected].