Pittsburghers have a love affair with meats, thanks to traditional butcher shops that have endured— emphasizing freshness, quality and personalized customer service.
In a world filled with big box convenience stores awash in displays stocked with Styrofoam plastic wrapped meats, these ‘Burgh shops haven’t changed much since the days when every town had multiple butcher shops.
By definition, a butcher is a skilled craftsman who dresses and cuts animal carcasses. More than a meat cutter (they work in large processing plants) a great butcher is an artisan of sorts—building relationships, knowing their customer’s name and favorite cut of meat, offering suggestions —almost like an extension of the family.
Here are five butchers that continue to thrive.
Tom Friday’s Market
3639 California Ave., Brighton Heights
“Pittsburgh love their steaks as much as they do their Steelers” said Tom Friday, of Tom Friday’s Market. “Pittsburghers are meat carnivores.”
He should know, his steaks have been purchased by a chef employed by Jerome Bettis.
“I grew up working alongside my dad in his butcher shop. It was old school back then and every little neighborhood had two or three butchers. But then the big stores moved in, especially about the 1980’s,” Friday said.
Friday continues his dad’s legacy from 1955, when Tom Friday Sr. opened his shop.
He credits great customer service and not compromising quality for their survival. “We have stuck to our guns and never skimped on quality. My dad always said, ‘Give the customer good quality at a fair price and they will come back.’”
And about that time the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, stopped by? “He was in here buying meat about a decade ago,” Friday said. “That was news.”
Hollywood celebrities such as Carol Burnett, Dom DeLuise and Sylvester Stallone raved to a friend of Friday’s with California connections, after noshing Friday’s homemade hot sausage shipped to an L.A. restaurant, he said.
“You never know where the meat is going to end up,” Friday said.
Friday’s is one of the few remaining butchers still hanging up full sides of beef- called “swinging beef.”
More labor intensive, Friday said it’s worth the hassle.
“We do it because you can’t beat the taste and flavor.”
Friday’s freshly ground beef is in demand, Fridays sells more than 3,000 pounds weekly. “We have a niche market and it’s thriving,” Friday said.
There’s no “boxed beef” here—referring to meat that is cut up, wrapped in plastic and usually drier due to juices leaving the meat in transit said Friday.
“Customers want to know where their food is coming from,” Friday said. “Our beef comes from Saxonburg, Pa. and is all natural. Out west some of the bigger beef packers put a clip in the cattle’s ear when they are born that gives off hormones and antibiotics and steroids—our cattle is grass fed.
The customer line often wraps around the deli and meat counter at Friday’s.
“I am so thankful Friday’s is here,” said longtime customer Stan Pabst of Stowe Township during a recent lunchtime visit. “I buy everything here—all my meats. The quality can’t be beat.”
Strip District Meats Inc.
2123 Penn Ave., Strip District
Serving Pittsburgh for more than 65 years, Strip District Meats Inc. boasts three generations of Turkas butchers working together. Owner/head butcher Raymond Turkas Jr. brings more than 45 years of experience.
“There’s not many of us (butchers) left,” said Christie Bengele, manager and family member. “We get customers coming in that are second and third generation shoppers. The relationships we have built keep them coming back and it’s a lot of hard work. We get customers coming in that remember Raymond Turkas Sr. (the founder) and that is worth it, that is the pay off.”
Strip District Meats offers a varied selection of exotic meats in the city.
Craving a twist to your traditional burger? Try the ground kangaroo or camel, yes camel, says Bengele. “People say the camel tastes like a sweet beef and we sell a lot of it. The exotic meats are a great lean protein. The ostrich steaks are very popular.”
Other exotic meats available include rattlesnake, antelope,alligator, elk, venison and wild boar.
100 Terence Dr., Pleasant Hills
Milton Weiss opened his butcher shop in 1948, emphasizing customer service.
Today, Elliott Weiss continues the family tradition along with his brother Joe and grandson Aaron.
“I grew up in Clairton during the 1950’s and there were 13 butcher shops. There are so few of us now,” Elliott Weiss said.
Old-fashioned customer service combined with the freshest cuts of veal, lamb, pork, poultry and beef are a priority and Weiss’s homemade specialty kielbasa sells out weekly.
“We make 1,200 pounds of kielbasa weekly,” Weiss said.
Choose from extra garlic, cheese and original pork or beef kielbasa, made in Weiss’s onsite smokehouse.
“Our secret to success is we have good employees that take care of our customers,” Weiss said.
200 Herron Ave., Cheswick
Todd Podmilsak can recall when the Harmar area had almost 15 butcher shops during the 1970’s.
A third-generation butcher with more than 35 years butchering, Todd continues the family-owned business that opened 73 years ago.
“People are tired of the big-box stuff—the plastic,” Podmilsak said. “The new movement of wanting grass fed beef, wanting farm to table and people want to know where their meat comes from.”
Podmilsaks has welcomed its loyal customers for decades.
“We have customers that have shopped here 50 plus years,” he said.
Personalized customer service and fresh beef from Iowa and South Dakota are some of the reasons this Chewick mainstay mom and pop butcher shop enjoys a brisk business.
“We get new customers daily,” Podmilsak said. “We have in-demand fresh smoked kielbasa we make and we ship it out nationally. Homemade sausage and fresh ground beef too.”
Joe’s Butcher Shop
502 Broadway, Pitcairn
The sole butcher shop remaining in Pitcairn, Joe Pedulla, 70, began honing his trade in middle-school, working part-time after school in a local butcher store.
He opened Joe’s in 1976.
Known as the “The Italian Sausage Maker,” Pedulla’s customers flock to his shop for the homemade hot and sweet sausage made from his secret Italian recipe.
“We only have five employees here. We sell about 700 pounds of sausage a week and we dona lot of cut to order beef,” said manager Faye Batzel. “We have Black Angus beef—very popular—and the taste and flavor is better, top quality.”
Place your order early if you want some if Joe’s seasonal homemade kielbasa, available during Christmas and Easter.
“We sell 17,000 pounds or so, we sell out,” Batzel said.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributor.