Craig LaBan picks Philly's best butchers

The sweet and smoky Lebanon balogna comes in multiple variations at S. Clyde Weaver's stand at the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne.

What are the best butchers around here?

Well, we’re experiencing a period of flux in the meat department. On the downside, we’ve lost several fine independent butchers in recent years, including the old-school artistry of D’Angelo’s in the Italian Market, the closure of new-school pasture-fed meat destinations like Kensington Quarters (now just a restaurant, not retail), and the sad closure of Wyebrook Farm in Honey Brook, both as a retail destination and restaurant.

The good news is that I’m sensing a comeback. I recently purchased some outstanding short ribs at a farm market from Primal Supply Meats, the company run by butcher Heather Thomason (who helped launch KQ’s sustainable-meat program) that has largely been a market pop-up until now. But Primal has plans to open a storefront on East Passyunk this spring and is already halfway to its goal on Kickstarter to fund its meat locker.  I’m excited for that neighborhood to get the great butcher it deserves.

But there are others. Wyebrook Farm’s sustainably raised meats have found a Philly retail home at La Divisa in Reading Terminal Market, where owner Nick Macri also makes some of the best charcuterie around (try his terrines and sausages). Reading Terminal, of course, is still home to several other great traditional butchers, like Martin’s Meats (where they deboned a pork butt for my Super Bowl roast in two minutes flat), Giunta’s Prime, and L. Halteman Family, for Pennsylvania Dutch-style butchery.

The Italian Market has lost many of its butchers, but there are still several classics I patronize, including Cappuccio’s (those coils of chevalatta sausage stuffed with provolone!) and Fiorella’s, which makes perhaps my favorite Italian sausage (I like mine hot, with fennel). Farther afield, I was impressed with some of the butchers in the Lancaster County Farmers Market in Wayne, where there’s a branch of S. Clyde Weaver, and you can buy Flintstone-size prime beef chops from Sammy’s Superior Meats.

Speaking of Lancaster County, the new Rooster St. Butcher in Lititz, which I recently featured in an Inquirer story, may be one of the best new-school artisan butchers in the state, with a full array of locally sourced, pasture-fed meats, outstanding charcuterie, and an eat-in cafe worth a trip. Freeland Market in Pottstown has also impressed me with its specialty sausages. In terms of supermarkets, both Whole Foods and Wegmans do an excellent job on a large scale with quality ingredients, and, in many ways, competition from them has been a double-edged cleaver. They’ve made it harder for independents to thrive, but those challenges have also pushed our new generation of ambitious young butchers to be smarter about their business and, ultimately, better.