Your clip-and-save guide to the best specialty butchers in the metro
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl
published: September 07, 2005
HUSNIK'S MEAT COMPANY
235 Concord Exchange S., South St. Paul
Back in the day, South St. Paul was the hub of Minnesota's livestock industry, the place where cattle and hogs went to meet their maker, and/or the railway. Now, the only very useful vestige of this history for a home cook is to be found 10 minutes south of downtown St. Paul at Husnik's, an industrial-looking butcher shop that keeps strict retail office hours (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturdays) and offers the closest experience someone outside of the trade can get to buying meat wholesale, as restaurants do. In fact, restaurants, retail markets, and institutional clients are Husnik's real bread-and-butter, and the fact that they stock a retail counter at all doesn't really seem worth their time--but if they want to set out the wholesale bargains and to-the-trade-only know-how, who are you to refuse?
I mean, do you need a beef side with a hanging weight of 290 to 330 pounds cut into cuts you specify? Head to Husnik's. They also sell half-hogs and entire pork loins (not just the wee tenderloin, we're talking the big 20-odd pound loin) cut into whatever sorts of chops and roasts you like; wholesale-priced boxes of every beef steak you can imagine; giant bags of frozen, cubed, beef tripe; whole, uncooked beef tongues; and everything that naturally comes from a butcher that breaks down swinging beef for the trade. (Swinging beef is the nearly whole side of the animal, the stuff you see on hooks in mob movies--rare today because most meat doesn't swing, which contributes to air-drying and improved flavor, but simply lies in pieces in Cryovac bags stewing in its own blood, which keeps it from losing any moisture, and thus precious dollar weight per pound.)
Because they process these big swinging beef sides, Husnik's almost always has available massive specialty beef roasts that will take other butcher shops a week to order--like the dinner-party splurge of a prime rib roast, or a decadent-for-grilling top round roast. (It's hard to quote ever-changing meat prices in a newspaper article, but in this critic's experience, most of the beef and pork at Husnik's is priced at about two-thirds to half of what you'll find elsewhere--for instance, as of this writing, prime rib roast was $6.59 a pound and rib-eye steaks were selling at $7.99.) Basically, anytime you need big meat, think Husnik's.
Since Husnik's has real, trained, skilled butchers and a wood-smoker on the premises, they can actually accomplish a lot of very rare upper-level butchery. This is why they've made a particular specialty of custom big-game processing: Need your bear turned into roasts, breakfast sausage, and teriyaki bear sticks? Here's where. (Ditto for elk, moose, and, of course, ho-hum, deer.) In addition to all of this, Husnik's specializes in roasting whole hogs, bringing them to your graduation, wedding, or other event, and serving them on buns, with barbecue sauce and all the coleslaw and what have you. If you want to get involved with the cooking of said roast hog (or giant section of beef) yourself, Husnik's will deliver the roaster and meat, or you can pick it up yourself. So ask yourself: Just how ambitious are you, as a cook? Care to try your hand at feeding 500? It's just a phone call away. Husnik's doesn't do much outside of the realm of beef, pork, and conventional poultry, but they are a resource of such depth and upper-level professionalism when it comes to beef and pork that it's fairly mind-blowing.