Movies about cooking and dining can be romantic, idyllic, obsessive, funny or revealingly dysfunctional, as in “Eat Drink Man Woman,” “Chocolat,” “Big Night,” “Julie and Julia,” “Ratatouille,” “Burnt,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “Chef.”
On the other hand, it was the terrifying exposé of America’s agribusiness consortium in the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” that drove many consumers away from prepackaged and processed foods toward more mindful choices within the farm-to-table model (which, remember, has been around in one form or another for millennia).
Part of that was the rediscovery of the old-fashioned butcher shop, where customers come face to face with veteran meat-cutters who know them by name and never tire of offering expert advice. Three places come to mind – Corti Bros. Market, Taylor’s Market and the new V. Miller Meats. But let’s not overlook Orangevale Meat & Sausage and owner Manny Sol, a butcher for 44 years.
The store originally was in Orangevale for 37 years as Orangevale Meat Shoppe, but got a slight name change four years ago when it moved to Fair Oaks. Manny has owned it since 2001. It’s the kind of place where brawny guys gather to be manly, ordering 3-inch-thick hand-cut rib-eye steaks and showing off their barbecue expertise. It’s like the scene at old-time barbershops, only paleo.
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What took us there is its lunch program, which goes like this: Every morning, Manny fills two smokers in front of the store with hand-rubbed bone-in skin-on chicken breasts and drumsticks; pork spareribs, baby back ribs and boneless country-style ribs; and a couple varieties of the 34 house-made pork and chicken sausages that rotate through. Sometimes he’ll add beef ribs to the mix.
When the meats are done – usually around noon – he takes them out of the smokers and loads them into big aluminum-foil trays, which he sets up inside the store. The meats are sold by the pound ($4.69 to $8). “We start running out about 4 p.m.,” Manny said. For those who don’t want to get messy, a traditional deli may be on the horizon.
I arrived at 11:30 a.m. for a walkabout before two lunch pals joined me at noon. Manny lifted the lids of the smokers to check the meats’ cooking progress with an instant-read thermometer. The ribs, chicken and sausages sizzled in a fog of fragrant smoke, a breeze sending wafts across the Fair Oaks Pointe parking lot, turning the heads of the guys on a nearby road-repair crew.
Inside, it’s clear the place was made for exploration and discovery. Its old-school ways are exemplified by a huge jar of dill pickles – almost a barrel – at the meat counter. All the place needs is sawdust on the floor.
Dozens of cookbooks are stacked and shelved around the store – “The Sausage Book,” “BBQ Rules,” “Steak” – there for customers’ perusal. “Coming here is not only about buying meat, it’s also about education,” Manny said.
The store is jammed with bins of proprietary rubs, shelves of sauces and marinades. There’s a cold case stacked with roasts, veal, lamb, poultry and wurst, along with hand-breaded pork and chicken cutlets. Another cold case is full of bacon, sausages, smoked ham hocks, racks of beef ribs and house-marinated tri-tip roasts in 10 different flavors. “The most popular is the Old Blackjack with soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic,” Manny said.
The pork and beef are shipped from Kansas City, the lamb sourced from nearby Dixon. Fresh fish is sold Fridays through Sundays.
Oh, look, here’s a mini freezer stacked with giant soup bones. Next to it is a game freezer with meats from Texas, Montana and Colorado – elk and wild boar patties, buffalo tri-tip, elk loin rack, ground venison, wild boar chops, wild turkey and more. Come to think of it, the website invites customers to bring in their game (and farm animals) for processing: “All game must be cleaned and skinned. Elk and buffalo must be quartered. We do bear.” Along with lambs, goats, birds and wild pigs.
Finally, it was time to jump in. We loaded our paper plates and took them out to a table by the smokers. Had the limited seating been taken, we had a Plan B, an old standby – set up lunch on the trunk of the car and eat standing in the parking lot, in keeping with the character of the place.
The meats were juicy, smoky and expertly seasoned. On this day, the sausages were sweet-hot Hawaiian and mild Italian. We added two kinds of house-made potato salad, coleslaw and a mound of excellent broccoli salad (all house-made) – a mix of broccoli flowerettes, broccoli slaw, shredded carrot, red cabbage, dried cranberries, bacon bits, pepper and honey, with a mayo-Dijon mustard dressing.
Later, we had to make some hard decisions: What do we buy to take home for the weekend grill?
Orangevale Meat & Sausage
Where: 8525 Madison Ave. in the Fair Oaks Pointe center, Fair Oaks (corner of Madison and Kenneth)
Hours: Lunch is daily, noonish till the food runs out at around 4 p.m. Butcher shop is open 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays
How much: $-$$