POSTED ON MARCH 16, 2011:
Leave it to Cleaver
Butchery is a dying art, which is a bloody shame. Thankfully, a handful of committed Tulsans don't mind getting their hands dirty.
Carol Headley's cart is so full, it's hard to tell if she's shopping or stocking shelves.
The cart is filled to the top. Plastic-wrapped packages of ground chuck and stew meat are stacked alongside rib roasts, steaks and bone-in pork chops. A tiny beaded purse rests in the child seat next to two filets.
"Those are for tonight," Headley, 68, said. "They're my favorite.
Peering into her cart, there's not a vegetable in sight. Headley laughs and stuffs a slender hand into the crimson mass and fishes out a Styrofoam tub of Portobello mushrooms, which she plans to skewer alongside hunks of strip steak and throw on the grill.
"That's the best I can do," she said with a laugh. "The meatiest non-meat available, I'm pretty sure."
Headley's litheness belies her love of animal fat -- the "more the better," she said, pinching her own stomach before declaring "Fit as a fiddle! My husband, too -- well, he might be more of a cello."
Headley saves bacon drippings to cook biscuits in and said she smokes ribs and briskets almost weekly. Her husband mans the grill, which, oddly, only sees vegetables.
"Cast iron" and a broiler-equipped oven "is the only way to go," she said. "You want those juices to soak in, not to burn away."
Headley tried to buy her meat in bulk, usually once a month. She buys a lot at Reasor's, but picks up specific cuts from specialty shops throughout Tulsa.
Butchers -- or, more accurately, meat cutters -- aren't a common sight anymore, even here in ranch country. Wickham, in Sapulpa, which provided hanging beef to local grocers, was among the last packing plants to close near Tulsa, and all metro meat cutters now buy from national distributors.
But there are still a handful of old-school holdouts cutting and preparing beef, pork and chicken for grateful locals. Grab a fork and chew the fat with Urban Tulsa Weekly's meat and greet.
Hannover's Meat Market
1314 E. 41st St.
You won't find any hip, trendy cuts of meat at Hannover's Meat Market, 1314 E. 41st St. Owner David Hannover tried grain-fed and Olkahoma-sourced meats over the years, but said he stopped after customers complained about the quality and consistency. Hannover stocks what sells: deep red roasts and wrist-thick steaks striated with creamy, marbled fat.
The door bells chime and a determined, white-haired woman walks right up to the counter at Hannover's Meat Market, 1314 E. 41st St.
"Give me three of your biggest rib eyes, and I mean big," she said, before pausing to address its owner sarcastically.
"Mister Meat Maaaaan," she said, giggling. "I don't even know your first name!"
Behind his Kenny Rogers beard, David Hannover beamed and smiled.
"Good! I don't want you to know my first name!," he bellowed.
They both laugh, and the woman is surprised to know that Hannover does know her name.
"Well... your boss talks about you," Hannover said, teasing the older woman.
Hannover is well aware of his reputation.
"They call me the meat Nazi," he said, "but I'm not sure why. I'm such a wonderful young man."
Hannover certainly doesn't deserve such a moniker, but his shop is as much defined by what it isn't as much as what it stands for.
Grass-fed or raised wild? No. Locally sourced? Never again. Trendy cuts? Try Whole Foods across the street.
"People will come in after seeing something on the Food Channel and want some of the trendy stuff, and I just don't do that," he said. "I tried some of that in the '80s, but I just prefer to stick to the tried and true. I stay in the past. It's hard for me to get into this new stuff."
Hannover sells cuts that are always good -- the "proven, tasty" grain-fed stuff. Deep red roasts and wrist-thick steaks striated with creamy, marbled fat.
Hannover tried to resist, but he inherited the business from his father, who in the late '50s or early '60s took over a grocery store near East 18th Street and South Cincinnati Avenue. Hannover worked for his dad until he left for the University of Oklahoma, where he studied "drinking, partying and other typical college stuff." When his dad became ill, Hannover returned to help. When his dad died, Hannover took over.
"Whether you want to be or not, at some point you're always in the family business," he said.
Hannover's Meat Market has been in its 41st Street location for 41 years. It's a tiny operation in a strip center he shares with a few other businesses, including an attorney and a deli, Lambrusco'z To-Go. The small shop was a well-worn red floor and a white, walk-in freezer in the back. The butcher blocks are worn and more closely resemble bowls after decades of cleaving, chopping and sawing.
The wall near the door is adorned with 8x10 photos of well-known entertainers, many of them autographed. Alongside Dolly Parton, legendary Tulsa singer-songwriter Dwight Twilley and English rock icon Paul Jones is a window with a faded OU sticker in one corner; an Oklahoma State sticker in the other.
He's had a handful of employees over the years, but Hannover pretty much runs things solo these days, save for a little weekend help from his godson.
Hannover has never married or had any children, so who will he hand the business over to when he finally decides to retire?
"Hopefully no one," he said, laughing. "Hopefully there won't be anyone dumb enough to get involved."
Petty's Fine Foods
1910 Utica Square
Petty's Fine Foods in Utica Square carries an array of specialty meats, from lamb and veal to crown roast pork--cuts rarely seen at big-box grocery retailers. Head meat cutter Jim Wollenschlager buys his meat from several large distributors, which make deliveries throughout the week. Petty's tenderloin is a top-seller, Wollenschlager said.
Jim Wollenschlager has been cutting meat for more than 40 years.
After leaving the Army, where he'd been serving as a medic stationed in Germany, Wollenschlager took an entry-level job at a meat wholesaler that supplied restaurants in his native Wisconsin.
Working his way up from an apprenticeship, Wollenschlager moved on to a job at a grocery store there, and -- after tiring of the brutal winters up north -- found a post here in Tulsa at Petty's Fine Foods in Utica Square, where he's been working for 28 years.
Wollenschlager manages the meat department and Petty's three other meat cutters. He's soft-spoken, but he runs a tight ship. The floors are mopped, the counters kept spotless and the glass of the display case is glossy and smudge-free.
Petty's meat customers are a mix of loyal regulars and newcomers, Wollenschlager said. The store is known for its tenderloin -- a cut from a cow's hindquarter that yields tender roasts and the vaunted -- which is the department's bestseller.
Trimming tenderloin entails the delicate use of a very sharp, relatively small knife, which is employed to separate a silvery "skin" of connective fascia from the cut -- a task very few amateur chefs can successfully manage.
"It's hard to get that skin off without digging into the meat," Wollenschlager said, gesturing to Petty's youngest meat cutter who was gliding a knife along a tenderloin, shaving off the shiny gristle.
Petty's also carries an array of specialty meats, from lamb and veal to crown roast pork -- cuts rarely seen at big-box grocery retailers. Wollenschlager buys his meat from several large distributors, which make deliveries throughout the week. Nothing arrives frozen, Wollenschlager said.
"We don't get anything prepackaged," he said. "Everything is hand-cut and totally fresh."
Perry's Food Store
1005 S. Lewis Ave.
The Centerpiece of Perry's Food Store, 1005 S. Lewis Ave., is the meet counter, which is showcased prominently near the entrance. Business is always brisk, and manager Patricia White said the store is known for its extra lean ground beef, which is ground with steak and roast trimmings. Perry's recently expanded into a location previously occupied by Bruner's, a meat market at 8013 D S. Sheridan Ave., which closed with owner Krsty Bruner's Retirement
Perry's Food Store has been in business for 70 years and they have the customers to show for it.
The centerpiece of the store is the meat counter, which instead of being relegated to the very back of the business, is showcased prominently near the entrance. Business is brisk at Perry's, which uses a customer number system to organize the crowds that gather near its display case.
Patricia White shopped at Perry's long before she worked there, she said.
"I thought maybe it would be one of those places I wouldn't want to eat from once I'd worked here, but I buy more now than I did before," she said.
White grew up in Mississippi before moving to Tulsa in 1989. She was a homemaker before she was hired at Perry's six years ago -- her first gig as a meat cutter.
"They told me they'd train me on everything I'd need to know," she said, recalling the intimidation of featureless slabs of meat and the array of shiny, spinning, deadly cutting and grinding equipment behind the counter. "It took me a long time to learn how to cut a baby back and trim a brisket."
Perry's employs about 20 meat cutters, many of them women, White said. The store is owned by Perry "Bud" Isom, who ran the business with his brother, Phillip W. Isom, until his death in 2008. Bud has worked at the store since 1948, White said, and considers his employees "family."
Just this month, Perry's expanded and took over a storefront previously occupied by Bruner's, a meat market at 8013 D S. Sheridan Ave., which closed with owner Kristy Bruner's retirement.
Perry's attracts a diverse array of customers, White said, from budget-conscious shoppers buying packages of meat, to big spenders buying three tenderloins for a party. Customers from around the state visit Perry's, and White said she regularly serves shoppers from Texas, Kansas and Missouri.
The store also carries "odd" meat items, which White said attract even more atypical shoppers.
"We have customers coming in that are covered in tattoos and we know they're buying out pork skins to practice their tattooing," she said.
The Oklahoma State University Medical Center is a regular customer, too, White said, and Perry's provides pig feet so medical students can practice suturing.
The most-requested item at Perry's is its signature ground beef, which is extra lean -- 86 to 90 percent -- and flavored with trimmings leftover from cutting steaks and roasts.
"Even though it's extra lean, it's got a lot of flavor," White said.
But when White is buying for herself, she prefers to go a bit bigger. "No matter how many times I cut them, I can still drool over a rib eye," she said.
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