Morristown, N.J., is one of those quintessential towns layered with history (George Washington slept all over that town) and the modern quaintness of small-town America with a green at its center. With a population of roughly 18,000 (half the size of SouthPark), Morristown has dozens of locally owned shops -- including butcher shops. Even though there are local grocers with meat-cutting abilities, many Jerseyans prefer going to a local butcher shop.
Both Charlotte and Morristown have Revolutionary War ties; the development here, however, took a different route. Charlotte was a farming community where farmers slaughtered their own animals for consumption. But when Charlotte started its extraordinary growth, circa 1900, the city quickly hop-scotched from rural to industrial to urban/suburban. Markets and then supermarkets replaced specialty shops as small neighborhoods gave way to ubiquitous shopping centers. Some of the original specialty shops, such as Price's Chicken Coop in Southend (which was once a poultry shop), saw the future and began selling prepared foods (fried chicken) rather than compete with grocery stores.
Charlotte's recent prosperity has brought an influx of people from northeastern small towns like Morristown. These people were used to frequenting bakeries, butcher shops and delis -- and not buying these foods from the supermarket. Many of these people moved south and north of the city.
"Eighty-five percent of the residents in Union County are Northerners," says Vic Giroux, owner of What's Your Beef Butcher and Deli in Waxhaw. Giroux is a native of Morristown who moved to North Carolina after 9/11. His wife had worked in the World Trade Center, and although she survived the attack, she wanted to move away from the New York area. Since the family had friends in this area, they resettled here.
Giroux, who had apprenticed in his uncle's butcher shops in Jersey, got a job in the meat department of Harris Teeter. He bided his time realizing how many customers were looking for a northern-styled butcher shop. In January of 2007, Giroux opened his own shop.
Giroux prides himself on being a butcher -- not a meat cutter. With him is Master Butcher John Saari, who was formally with Publix in Florida. Except for veal, all the meat here is local, including the bison (from Asheville).
"People are looking for two things: quality and great service," says Giroux. All of his meats are hormone-, antibiotic-, and steroid-free. Prices are comparable to area grocery stores, and lower in some cases. He cites organic boneless chicken breasts for $6.99 per pound at Fresh Market, $8.99 at Harris Teeter and $3.99 at his shop.
The beef is certified Black Angus and the farmer who raises this livestock has a close relationship with Giroux. "If someone calls up in the morning and needs a special cut of beef, I can get it by noon." To do this, Giroux will frequently make a trip out to the farm.
The steaks are dry-aged. The Porterhouse, once grilled, tasted exceptionally good and comes with a huge T-bone in tow. The ground chuck made irresistible burgers. Giroux also grinds a popular meatloaf mix (beef, veal and pork). Currently, the lamb here is local, but special order. He had sold New Zealand lamb, but prefers to order directly from an area farmer. Should you wish to abstain from the red-meat frenzy -- although the ribs look tantalizing -- there's local pork and chicken. Additionally, Giroux makes his own sausages: fresh and smoked Kielbasa, sweet and hot Italian, and the pepper and onions, a favorite.
The deli menu gives away Giroux' origins. The Black Forest ($7.49) sandwich with turkey, Swiss, cole slaw and Russian dressing is clearly a Jersey Sloppy Joe -- even if it's on Pumpernickel. The most popular sandwich, though, is the Soprano ($8.99) with ham, cappacola, hard salami, mozzarella and provolone. The potato salad and mozzarella are produced in-house.
Giroux considers himself to be a visionary. He notes that Omaha Steaks recently opened in Ballantyne. "They do their homework and won't open unless enough people are there to buy their product."
What's Your Beef is not the only butcher in the Charlotte region. Reid's Fine Foods meat department with a resident butcher has provided meats to the Myers Park crowd, and now the Center City population, since 1928. The lake area has several butcher shops, as do many of the Latino markets. Plus, Charlotte has several halal meat shops.
Yet the Porterhouse at What's Your Beef is reason enough to revisit this tidy butcher shop, which should be located in a town center but is marooned in a tiny strip center. The deli needs to go a long way before it reaches a Jersey standard, but the beef here is delicious, and I intend to have more.
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