Great Meats on East Main 

In Chattanooga and across the country an agricultural renaissance is moving ahead full steam. More and more people appreciate the health, environmental, and nutritional value of eating locally grown food.

Story by Richard Morel 
Photography by Miles Baker

Small, sustainably managed family farms dot our region. Farmer’s markets have grown in number, size, and popularity, recently, and in the wake of all this we see specialty food shops opening their doors. Proprietors of these businesses are part of our community, linking farmers and their own retail customers.

Plans for just such a shop began in the autumn of 2012 when Tom Montague, owner of Link 41 on East Main Street began thinking of expanding into the empty space between Link 41 and Neidlov’s bakery. He teamed up with two partners, Dan Key and Jim Johnson, owner of Cloudcrest Farm, and they began planning to open a neighborhood butcher shop dedicated to forging a close connection between locally grown meats and the community. Main Street Meats [MSN] held its grand opening on November 1st of 2013.

The shop specializes in meats and poultry. It operates using authentic methods and established techniques that have been refined over many years. Key says at Main Street Meats, “We use craft butcher techniques that have survived and evolved from generation to generation, combined with modern processing technologies.” Preserving tradition and producing a quality product is the primary goal.

Only locally grown meats from farms and farmers they know find their way into their shop. “We truly believe that our butcher shop is a bridge between family farms and amazing meals," says Key. They work with local farmers who are deeply committed to animal quality and care, and they are changing the way Chattanoogans know, experience, and enjoy meat.

Regular customer, Erin Yon, sums up her experience this way, “I am an avid Main Street Farmer's Market shopper on Wednesdays. Now, with Main Street Meats next door, I am able to purchase from my ‘green grocer’ and my butcher on the same day. It is like shopping in days of yore before the big chain supermarkets!”

Ann Casey, another patron of the shop says, “ "I love Main Street Meats. Dan is so knowledgeable and it's always a delight to go in there.  Knowing that the meat is all local and ethically raised is extremely important to me, we need to eat closer to the source of all our foods."

“We know our farmers by name,” adds Key.  “We know where and how the food is grown because we visit them—and so can our customers.” In fact, Johnson’s Cloudcrest Farm is a chief supplier of beef and pork to Main Street Meats.

Padgett Arnold of Sequatchie Cove Farm and now nationally famous Sequatchie Cove Creamery describes their relationship with Main Street Meats as community based. “Main Street Meats was founded with the small family farm in mind. It has been a great experience working with them from the early stages of their development, building a strong relationship,” says Arnold. “They know us, our farm, and how we produce our meats and cheeses. Main Street Meats is providing an important service & education to the public as a link from the local producer to the consumer.” Most Sequatchie Cove meats and the Creamery’s cheeses are sold at the East Main Street store.
Cattle and sheep growing on these farms graze freely on grass and are never “grain finished.” Hogs roam without restraint in forests and on pastures. Poultry wanders outdoors feeding on what’s found naturally and supplemented by non-GMO feed.

The shop’s close connections with farmers and rigorous standards describe the core of its ongoing quest to provide quality food to customers. The web site states, “We test every farmer’s meats for serving quality before we agree to partner with them as a source, agreeing upon specifications for animal genetics, feeding, kind and sustainable living conditions, and age. Every partner farm agrees never to feed antibiotics, growth stimulants, or animal components.”

Their meats are dry aged, a process usually carried out only at the finest steak houses. “To my knowledge, we are the only butcher shop in the area selling dry aged beef,” says Key. The meat hangs for 12 days at a local USDA processing plant and another week or more in the shop. Dry aging is a delicate, carefully controlled process that tenderizes the meat, and does even more. As it dries, the meat flavors become more concentrated and richly diverse. Of course, dry aging means less water in the meat, and less water means more real meat for the buck!

Some of the finest restaurants in Chattanooga, including Alleia, Easy Bistro, Elemental, St. Johns, 212 Market, and The Flying Squirrel, feature their meats on their menus. MSM is open for lunch, Monday through Saturday from 11am to 3pm. Although seating is limited at the moment, the owners are planning to expand. The "house-burger,” dollar ribs, and barbecue sandwiches are the eat-in favorites, served with "craft beers" locally made sodas, and bottled water.
One fan of the burger stops by often and describes it as, “Big, cooked to perfection, and loaded with the special flavors unique to the shop’s dry-aged meats.” She adds, “It’s just fun to be in the shop.”

For take home, everyone loves MSM's smoked meatloaf, chicken pot pies and beef pot pies, all prepared in house. Main Street Meats curing techniques allow them to continually increase the selection of specialty meat products, such as their house-made mortadella and pastrami."
The shop’s sense of community doesn’t end with their human customers. If you’re a dog lover the Main Street Meats folks haven’t forgotten your canine pal. Barley Bones dog treats, made by another new local specialty business, are available at the shop. Ben Whitelaw and Nathan Gebele of Barley Bones offer this, "We had been looking to work with Main Street Meats since first learning of their plans to open. We knew it would be an invaluable source of locally raised meat products that we could use in flavors of Barley Bones." Ben and Nathan use high quality local and regional ingredients and point out that their focus on these ingredients makes Barley Bones a healthy and special treat.

This unique, somewhat old-fashioned, and good spirited neighborhood butcher shop is making connections and enlivening the East Main Street community!