Bad Beef

I remember a time when street corner grocery stores existed. These were those awesome “mom and pop” places that were run by generations of a family. It was a small store stuffed with items on shelves down two aisles, and it was the place where you would do the majority of your weekly grocery shopping. The one I remember growing up with was just about a block away, and was run by our next-door neighbours: Calmareski’s. We were so close to them, they were like family to us (later, they literally became family when their youngest daughter married my mother’s cousin’s son).

(I’ll wait till you wrap your brain around that…)

But I digress.

Those were also the days (and the types of stores) that had a butcher – a real butcher – behind the meat counter. At Calmareski’s, the meat counter was in the rear of the store and covered the width of the building. It was filled with certain cuts of meat, and with a number of lunch meats, and if what you needed wasn’t already cut for that day, that butcher would cut it off the animal in the walk-in refrigerator for you, trim it, and wrap it up in that nice butcher-brown paper tied up with a string.

You knew you were getting quality. It had to be quality, because that butcher (and the store owners and operators) were part of the community they were serving and feeding! Could you imagine selling a piece of old meat to your neighbour? You may as well close down and move far, far away! It was back at a time when people took pride in their jobs, in their properties, and in everything they did.

But it was also still part of a time when you went to one place to get your meats, another place to get your produce, and maybe even another place for bakery items and groceries. Mom would get her meats from Calmareski’s, our baked goods from Webber’s Bakery, our fresh produce from the farmer’s market, and the rest of the weekly groceries from Shop-Rite (Calmareski’s was also the place to run to when you ran out of something during the week).

But as the larger supermarkets gained control, and those small corner stores faded away (thank God for the Latin bodegas that still exist around some cities!), we ended up running to one store to get everything. Somehow, our schedules got too busy to go to different stores for quality foods; so, we would consolidate our time, and go to a single store to purchase everything. The drawback was the lousy quality of meats, specialty cheeses, bakery items, and produce.

It never really dawned on me until just recently. Hubby and I do our grocery shopping at a single place (just like most people do). Whenever we need fresh produce, it’s there. When we need meats, or seafood, they’re there. We don’t have to run from store to store, and it’s convenient. And by spending money there, we’re able to get a discount on gas for the car. But we’ve been noticing that when we plan recipes that require specific cuts of meat, it’s damned near impossible to find exactly what we need. Eventually we just get something similar to it, and fudge the rest.

What totally set me off was this past weekend. We needed a sirloin steak, and we needed 2 chicken quarters – neither of which we could find. The best we found was a “petit sirloin steak” (the steak was cut in half length-wise), and a package of 3 half chickens.

Meh… We’ll just get those and make ’em work.

When we got home and opened the package of chicken, the underside and the parts that were touching had turned brown and nasty. It was clearly expired, even though the “sell by” date was for a week later. We immediately tossed it into the trash and dismissed it. But when we went to start cutting up the sirloin steak into cubes for kabobs, we realized there was a serious problem with quality. Rather than fresh mean, we had something with a thin reddish outside framing a dark brown inside. Apparently, this was old, too, even though it’s “sell by” date was 5 days away.

After taking a picture of it (That’s it at the top) and then tossing it out, we wrote an eComplaint (through their website) to tell them about their poor quality. I’m purposely not mentioning their name because they did reach out to me in hopes of rectifying the situation. (I think the threat of taking them to task on social media may have been the trick.) Regardless, I learned a valuable lesson.

Supermarket grocery store chains may have all things available, but they don’t have all GOOD things available.

So perhaps Hubby and I need to take some extra time (and it’s worth spending a little extra money, too). There are still some of those real butchers out there. We’ve found a few of them locally – some new and some that have been in business for a number of decades. After this final experience with the supermarket chains, we’re going to start going to these specialty butcher stores where we will (hopefully) be getting real, fresh meats. Sure, we’ll have to drive a little extra to get to them, but it’ll be worth it to get exactly what we need, and not turning brown.

And while we’re at it, we’ll probably start visiting some of those nice bakeries, too!