Phoenix Phoodies: Butchered

Once upon a time, many neighborhoods in Phoenix were served by a local butcher. These days, the only butcher some people can recollect is Sam the Butcher, Alice's main squeeze on The Brady Bunch. For fans of prime, hand cut meat, trimmed to order, Hobe Meats on 16th Street and Bethany Home in Central Phoenix (6044 N 16th St., (602) 604-2333) has been slicing and dicing since 1962.

Now operated by Eric Fritschen, who bought the place seven years ago, Hobe's is still bringing custom cuts of choice and prime meat to a coterie of carnivorous connoisseurs. Like your rib eye with a bit of fat? No problem. Prefer your New York Strip sliced extra thick? Got that, too. Tempted by tri-tip? It's in the bag. Sweetbreads, veal, homemade sausage, bacon, and every part of the cow but the moo, it's all here. Sam would be proud.

Chow Bella: How did you end up owning Hobe Meats? Eric Fritschen: I was working at AJ's at the time, and there was a rumor that Hobe's was going to close, so I sunk my life savings into it and bought it.

CB: Hobe has always been a family business. Is there a second generation to take over for you when you retire? EF: No, I'm a lone soldier. I'm not worried. There will always be someone around who loves meat and who wants to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week (laughter).

CB: What is your most popular cut of meat? EF: Definitely the prime rib eye steak. Prime rib, too. It's really popular around the holidays. We'll go through about 3600 pounds of it during Christmas week.

CB: So why is a prime cut of beef better than choice? Why is it more expensive? EF: It's mostly in the marbling. In prime meats it is a lot better. Good prime meat has lots of little white dots all throughout the meat - that is the marbling. Choice doesn't have nearly as much. The marbling is the fat that gives it the flavor.

CB: People are pretty passionate about their favorite cuts of meat. Do you get odd requests? EF: I had one lady who wanted what she called a 'One of a Kind Pot Roast'. I couldn't find it. I looked in all of my books and it didn't exist. I asked her where she found it and she said it was from a butcher in New York City. So I called him to find out what she was talking about.

CB: What was it? EF: It ended up being tri-tip. (laughter) A lot of people come up with weird things to call cuts of meat. Sometimes chefs do it, or you'll find something weird in a cookbook. Generally people will just make up terms. Some chefs don't always know a lot about different cuts of meat. Depending on where they went to cooking school, they might just have one eight hour class on meat, so they don't necessarily have a lot of training.

CB: What do you think is the most underappreciated cut of meat? EF: Chuck roast. It's just about the cheapest cut there is, and it's really flavorful. Put it in a slow cooker with some vegetables, and you'll come home to a great stew.

CB: Did I hear correctly that you carry reindeer? EF: I order it if people want it. It is popular during the holidays.

CB: That's cruel, reindeer for Christmas? Have you eaten it? EF: Well, it's actually caribou. I haven't tried it, but if I ended up with some extra, sure, I'd give it a try.

CB: Why is the steak you eat at a restaurant better than what you can cook at home? EF: Well, the restaurant might have ways to doll it up. Or it might even be the ovens. But it comes down to the meat. Prime cuts are what you want. Get a good thick steak, thicker is better, even if you have to share it when you serve it. A thick steak will be juicier in the end because it will hold more moisture. Usually when you buy a steak in the grocery store, it's been cut based on price. People look at it and see it's only 5 bucks. Chances are to be only 5 bucks, it has been cut really thin and that will guarantee the end result will be dry. Stick to prime cuts, preferably thick, and it will be good every time.

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Jonathan McNamara