A Cut Above
Chef offers variety of meats, gourmet items at new store aided by crowd-funding effort
URBANA — Come to The Urbana Butcher Shop, and you'll find it's a far cry from your supermarket's meat department.
Don't expect to find rump roasts here, chicken breasts there, and packages of 80 percent to 90 percent lean ground beef at counter's end.
Instead, trained chef Joshua Boyd is busy preparing pate en croute, a whole-wheat pastry that will be filled with sausage.
On the stove are pork rinds that have been boiled and dehydrated and will be later be fried.
There's also a pan of roasted delicato squash, which Boyd will use in making spicy squash sausage. Also on the to-do list for the day: andouille sausage and pork pie.
Many of the items in Boyd's "grab-and-go" case and on his daily "cut-to-order" list aren't the sort of items you'd ordinarily get from Oscar Mayer or Butterball.
Available this past Thursday on Boyd's "cut-to-order" list were cuts of pork, goat, rabbit and chicken as well as pate de campagne and head cheese.
Featured in the "grab-and-go" case were turkey confit salad, pork and kimchi stew, pork rillettes, rabbit liver mousse, lamb shanks, several types of sausage — and yes, even smoked pork bones for Fido.
Colleen Wagner of Urbana stopped in to buy several items, including turkey confit salad and lard.
"I think it's great," Wagner said of the shop's opening. "I can't wait to see what Josh brings to the table. We need more businesses like this that support local farms and sustainable agriculture and keep dollars local."
Boyd, who formerly worked as a chef at Carmon's Bistro in Champaign and is winding down late-night chef duties at Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in Urbana, said he's looking forward to life as a butcher.
"I won't miss the hustle-and-bustle of kitchen work," said Boyd, 30, of Urbana. "It's tough, the hours are terrible, but it's a great learning tool. Beyond that, it (being a chef) is an ego thing. I'm OK not doing the ego thing in order to have stable hours."
Boyd raised much of the money for The Urbana Butcher Shop though a campaign on the Indiegogo crowd-funding website. His target was $10,000. He raised a little under $7,000 and bridged the gap through loans from friends.
The shop had its grand opening Nov. 9, and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Boyd prides himself on getting his meats from places within a 90-minute drive of Champaign-Urbana. The main sources are Triple S Farms near Stewardson, Catalpa Grove Farm near Dwight and the Kilgus Farmstead near Fairbury.
For now, he's not offering beef — simply because he prefers to work with the whole animal, and until he gets a walk-in cooler, he doesn't have room for a whole cow. At this point, he's carrying pork, chicken, lamb, goat and rabbit. He also sells chicken and duck eggs from the Sullivan area.
The shop offers daily lunch specials, generally either a soup or sandwich. On Thursday, it was roast lamb.
The Urbana Butcher Shop occupies the space at 119 W. Main St. in downtown Urbana that was formerly the home of Das Kafe restaurant.
Boyd works from the kitchen in the rear of the space, but eventually hopes to move operations up front.
"We want to get the deli cooler out front and the butchering out front," he said.
He and co-owner Spencer Ford would also like to put a bar down the middle of the shop and serve drinks there. Ford has experience working at Bacaro and The Blind Pig.
Boyd said he got the idea of combining a butcher shop and bar from a barbershop in New York that had a bar.
"We would stay open to 9 p.m. and serve the happy-hour crowd instead of late-night," he said.
But for now, Boyd is mainly concentrating on furnishing good meat and educating customers about it.
That involves not only acquainting them with cuts of meat, but teaching them how to cook those cuts.
"What we do makes no sense if you don't know how to prepare it," he said, adding he likes to give customers recipes.
Having time to talk with customers about food has been one of the rewarding parts of opening a butcher shop, Boyd said.
"If you're cooking, you don't have time to talk to customers," he said of his days as a chef. "Being of valued service to them is fulfilling."
Bits from the butcher
What Boyd dislikes most about the job? "I haven't found much I don't like so far, other than cutting myself four times while deboning a lamb. You just apply a little flour, bandage it up and be on your way."
His favorite cut of meat? The beef spider steak. The steak comes from the hollow of the hip and weighs only about eight ounces. It's "tenderer than the tenderloin," Boyd said. "Butchers keep them for themselves."
His tools? "The three knives I use the most are the boning knife, a chef's knife and a utility knife about 4-1/2 inches long." He also uses a hatchet and mallet for cutting bone.
His preparations for Thanksgiving? Boyd has a sign-up list for customers who want to order turkeys for Thanksgiving. He plans to get 10 Bourbon Reds, each weighing 15 pounds, from Caveny Farm near Monticello. "The entire bird is dark meat," he said.