The Healthy Butcher
The Healthy Butcher at Avenue and Eglinton is the second installment of the franchise and it more than complements the highly successful Queen St. location.
In fact, although it's more than twice as big (it's more of a small grocery store than a butcher), it is all about quality not quantity here. On offer at this location is also organic produce (all organic, lots of local), cheeses, oils, bread, and more. Basically everything you find in your average grocery store, minus all the aisles in the middle. If you're the type that does most of your shopping at the perimeter of the big chains, avoiding boxes and bags, you'll be right at home.
Items that caught my attention included fresh Lake Erie pickerel (walleye), duck and other animal lards (where else can you find this stuff?), and artisanal cheeses from Ontario and Quebec (samples of Toscano cheese anyone?).
While there are all sorts of interesting items for sale here, let's not forget the focal reason you'd want to shop here: meat. It's still the focus of the store, offered up through a fully enclosed square meat counter. The manager claims the store's philosophy is about "whole animals", not boxed meat or just traditional cuts you can find at any butcher.
That means making an effort to showcase all cuts of meats and educate customers through their displays, website, and newsletter. It's one of the reasons they wanted a store with more space, to "showcase the whole animal".
Meats here comes mostly from Field Gate Organics, a co-operative of small Ontario organic farms, and a few other small local farms. For all the emphasis on healthy meats I was a bit disappointed in their selection of grass-fed cuts, which was limited to only four beef items. The "pasture raised" label is used quite a bit which can be misleading as those animals are usually still grain fed or finished. Not very natural for our herbivore friends.
I was also pretty excited to see their hamburger patties on sale for 50% off. Just about to put some in my cart, I asked if there was anything added and was disappointed to hear they contained breadcrumbs. To their credit I was told they sometimes carry gluten-free hamburgers and label them as such. Some might say I'm splitting hairs, but if you are going to pony up for expensive meat then what the heck.
I have to give them credit for a variety of choices rarely seen, including rare cuts of beef like "clodhammer" (rotator cuff) and game meats like elk and venison. And kudos for the to-the-point label on their hot dogs which reads "No garbage added all-beef hot dogs." Imagine that.
When it comes to pricing, it's no surprise that you pay premium, but it's not outrageously expensive. Lean ground beef goes for $1.05 per 100g (or about $4.76 per pound) which is pretty good for premium meat. It goes up from there but they do have specials and can answer questions that would elsewhere get you nothing but strange looks.
At the back, in plain view, is an area dedicated to slicing up and processing all the meat products in the store. It's not much to look at but it's nice to be able to actually see where your meat is being handled. It looks clean and lets you know that they can do up your meat any way you'd like.
If coffee is your thing you don't have make a separate stop or settle for a mediocre brew as the store has its own little cafe in the front corner called Ambrosia Cafe which uses Fresh Coffee Network beans (which are also for sale in bulk). It's nice to see that the beans used and for sale are labeled with a roast date so you know it has been less than a week since they've been replaced.
I left the store feeling pretty satisfied. It's definitely one of my new favorite butchers in the city. I glanced at their mission statement on my way out, "To ensure your food is produced the way nature intended." Pretty close for a store in this city.