By the time Cheesetique's new location was open for business, the sign for Let's Meat on the Avenue was up outside the old location, tantalizing those of us who loved the idea of a new honest-to-goodness butcher shop on Mount Vernon Avenue.
Stephen Gatward, the man behind the counter, may have kept foodies waiting for a month or so, but he opened Let's Meat on the Avenue to such a tremendous response that he actually sold out of everything he had to offer on his first day of business. Though he previously worked in advertising in the area, Gatward has years of experience as a butcher in England and Australia, and his experience shows in the beautifully trimmed cuts of meat on display in the single refrigerated case that runs along the left side of the store.
A word of warning - it's far too easy to be drawn in by the steaks, chops and sausages that fill the case (assuming you get there early enough in the day), and it's embarassing to leave smudgy noseprints on the glass. They really are that good-looking, with the steaks ranging from thin and bright red to thick, deeply marbled, and bordering on purple in color. Chops stand out more for their uniformity than any particularly unique appearance. And the sausages, including both those made on-site by hand and those brought in from Amish vendors in Pennsylvania, have a rich meatiness to them that you just don't find in commercial preparations.
If you like your meat local and minimally processed, Let's Meat on the Avenue has your number. They bring in cuts of beef and lamb from Fauquier's Finest, a country butcher shop and meat processing facility in Bealston, Virginia, and Gatward is proud to sell Bell and Evans chickens (a brand noted for its commitment to raising their birds naturally).
In addition to the meats on offer, Let's Meat on the Avenue sells a wide range of spices, rubs, marinades and other items that can enhance your carnivorous cuisine. They also sell t-shirts bearing the logo of the shop (banking on the friendly image and foodies' eager embrace) and a table full of smoked bones still rich with marrow that are guaranteed to earn you the undying loyalty of just about any dog. Gift certificates are also available (they charge tax on the purchase, ostensibly so that the recipient can spend it tax-free).
Although the prices are nothing like what you'll find at Safeway (no $0.89/lb specials here), you can't help but feel like you're getting quality for the money. The meat is tender and tasty, with a flavor that is clear and strong. Whether or not you agree with food writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver who talk about the "true costs" of food in terms of economic, environmental, social and health impacts, it's not hard to justify the added expense for Let's Meat on the Avenue's products.
If you find yourself in Del Ray (scratching an itch for frozen custard at the Dairy Godmother or hot chocolate at Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections), do yourself a favor and stop in to see what Steve has available at Let's Meat on the Avenue. And if there's something specific you're looking for, do yourself a favor and ask. If they don't have it in stock, they can usually special-order. But be prepared to find slim pickings if you stop by too late on a Saturday - the Farmers' Market crowd tends to do their shopping early, and they have embraced Let's Meat on the Avenue in a big way.
Let's Meat on the Avenue
2403 Mt Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA 22336
Wednesdays through Fridays 11-7