I once asked for pork butt at the meat counter of a chain grocery in Champaign. The person behind the counter looked at me like I was an idiot, like I was asking for the actual buttocks of a pig, and not a cut of meat from its shoulder. Last weekend I asked for pork butt at Old Time Meat and Deli Shoppe on Neil Street in Champaign. The man working behind the counter responded with, “And how big do you need that?” “About four pounds,” I replied.
Old Time Meat and Deli (OTMD) is a butcher shop, above all else. The fairly large space has features a long meat cooler and counter, with a variety of chicken, pork, beef, and seafood on display. A set of several freezers contains frozen meats and seafood. There is an open cooler in the middle of the store displays deli sides like potato salad, macaroni salad, hummus, beans, and OTMD’s signature side — the twice baked potato.
There are a whole lot of options for meat: different animals, different cuts, marinated or not. There are different specials each week, so if you’re looking to splurge or save on meat purchases, the specials are worth considering. Last week chuck roast was on sale for $5.69 per pound, which is quite reasonable. Those low and slow cuts can be large, and sure, you’ll pay $15-20 for a good chunk of meat, but you’ll also have a large amount of food, which is perfect for parties and/or leftovers. In my case, I needed a pork butt to slow cook and feed some guests. My piece was a little over four pounds, and at a little less than $2.50 per pound, my meat was only $10.78. That’s pretty cheap. The meat had been handled and cleaned well. It was bone-in, the marbling was lovely, and there was just the right amount of fat along the top of the cut. Although seasoning and proper cooking were primarily responsible for a tasty end product, the original source material’s high quality really made the difference in that night’s meal (and subsequent leftovers).
OTMD also has large pieces of meat that you can have cut to order. Perhaps you’re having a party this Memorial Day weekend, and you’d like to serve your guests some choice ribeye. (You are very generous, and can you please invite me?) You can buy a seventeen-pound cut of ribeye ($12.99/lb; about $221) and have individual steaks cut to your liking. Maybe you don’t feed your guests those steaks; maybe you just freeze them. Regardless, you can have meat butchered and wrapped to your liking free of charge. If you’re not sure about a cut of meat, or how to prepare it, just ask. Everyone there was very friendly and informative. (And there are great little cards with some tips, too.)
What about the deli in Old Time Meat and Deli? There are several ways in which the deli component is represented. Deli, short of delicatessen, is defined as “a store selling cold cuts, cheeses, and a variety of salads, as well as a selection of unusual or foreign prepared foods” (thanks, Google). I can say that there wasn’t much in the way of “unusual or foreign prepared foods,” unless we generalize that to mean “food prepared by someone other than yourself,” which I will do. OTMD has a relatively small selection of cold cuts and cheeses, but Boar’s Head products are available, and I’m a fan of that. The selection of salads and other prepared dishes is seemingly much more diverse, and includes the items I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Additionally, there are bags of chips and containers of lettuce — the essentials for throwing together a nice little salad or sandwich. The star of the sides, though, is the twice baked potato.
Twice baked potatoes are really delicious, but are a pain in the ass to make. They take too long; there are too many steps involved. OTMD offers two varieties: plan and bacon. These potatoes are huge. They are enormous. They’re large enough for two people to share (but if you eat your own, I won’t judge). At $3.49 each, these are no brainers for an easy, go-to, pre-made side dish. All you need to do is bake them for thirty minutes at 350 degrees.
I did that, and it was amazing. I only ate half of the potato, because it was massive. The stuffing contained cheese, pepper, and green onion. The savory bite was creamy because of the cheese, but there were still some bigger pieces of potato. Having the bit of potato in there was good for me — I liked the predictable variety in texture as well as the texture and taste of the fluffy potato bite. The twice baked potatoes are a little rustic; the filling isn’t pureed into baby food and piped into the potato shell. It seems like a real person used her or his hands to scoop out, combine, and refill each potato. These bad boys are sure to impress your family or dinner guests.Oh, and if you're into skipping the skin, you can buy containers of potato filling. Genuis.
twice baked potato, before baking
The other item worth considering — despite its hefty price tag of $8.99 — is the house made jerky. Jerky is having a moment right now, which I suppose is cool? I don’t know how I feel about it, actually. I’ve never been much of a jerky person, but since it has become ubiquitous, I’ve been trying the local varieties I come across. I bought a container of regular beef jerky (spicy is also available). This jerky was flavorful and well spiced, while still tasting like beef. It was salty, as most jerkies are, but it wasn’t close to being over-salted or gross. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and look forward to incorporating it into my snack repertoire as a “special treat,” or emergency hanger snack.
While I haven’t picked up any of the hot and ready to eat ribs (available after 4:30 p.m.), if the raw meat and jerky are any indication, I’m sure they are delicious. I encourage you to check them out.
Some friends have been shopping at “the butcher” for some time, and I’m admittedly late to the game. Better late than never, I say. I plan on making Old Time Meat and Deli a regular stop on my weekly food gathering outings. The meat is fresh, the folks are friendly and informative, and those potatoes...
All photos by Jessica Hammie.