2 min

Hogtown meat

An editorial about the popularity of meat in Toronto and its correlation to handsome butchers

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One sunny, summer day around lunchtime, I skipped out of work, hopped on my bike and bolted over to Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Kensington to get something barbecue-able for dinner. When I got back to the office I plopped into my chair and exclaimed, “Woof! I’m so hot and bothered!” A co-worker turned around and asked, “Is it that hot today?” It was hot out (remember summer?), but more importantly it was the hunky butchers at Sanagan’s who’d really raised my body temperature.

If you’ve ever been, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and visit the shop as soon as possible.

The 5,000-square-foot storefront is packed with not only some of the best carnivorous fare in the city, but also possibly the most handsome men and women ever found behind a meat counter.

And so we sat around and gushed about who the cutest butcher was, wishing we had baseball-card versions of them to trade and centrefolds to pin up. As the conversation continued, other office folk piped in to let us know where their favourite butcher worked. We ended up with an impressive list and decided to dedicate an entire issue to meat, its vendors, its restaurants, its alternatives and its fashion.

I was lucky enough to join photographer Jamo Best on a day-long shoot to capture three of the best-looking butcher shops in Toronto. All three (Sanagan’s, Côte de Boeuf and The Meat Dept) had some key elements in common.

First, they are all decked out in barn wood. Ever-changing chalk boards are also the norm and all offer various accoutrements, such as rubs, sauces and charcuterie. There’s a warm feeling when walking into any of these locations. The barn vibe helps, but it’s also because all three are staffed with experienced butchers who love what they do. A rejuvenated desire to work with the hands, share one’s knowledge and carve out a “farmland in the city” sounds idealistic and over the top, but it’s all true.

I spoke with Steve O’Brien (you can see a video of our conversation at dailyxtra.com) at Sanagan’s. It was hard — his dimples stare you right in the face and dare you to look away. While he couldn’t explain the oddly high number of very good-looking butchers in the shop, he did talk about the idea of living a more authentic life. People in the city are craving a less manufactured experience — they now want to meet the person who chopped their chicken and who picked it up from a farm near the city.

For the boys at The Meat Dept on the Danforth, the shop is all about community. Sure, their local meat is good, but Big Jim and his small team know pretty much everyone who walks in the door and can tell them when the aged beef they put on hold will be ready 11 months down the road.

Perhaps the handsomest in all the land is Teo Paul at Côte de Boeuf. Paul and his team, all in custom-made Klaxon Howl shirts, take their time preparing meat. The slowed-down pace of this butcher shop is never an issue because they’re super hot, but also because of the obvious care that goes into prep, display and packaging. Why rush the meat when it took its time getting there?

Their skilled hands are busier than ever, thanks to a new love of local meat in the city. The passion these butchers display in one conversation is inspiring, and the killer good looks they provide is a delicious bonus.

Check out our Life section for more meaty goodness.