You could say I am a woman who will go a long way for a good brisket.
Twenty miles in this case. And I did indeed get a good brisket – an 8-pound beauty, fat layer intact, flat and deckle included, now vacuum-packed and waiting in my refrigerator for long attention on the grill.
But like a lot of things, the destination isn’t always the reason for the journey. In this case, I wanted an excuse to visit one of the more interesting meat markets I’ve found. It’s in a gas station in Denver.
I was sent there by a friend with Texas roots who not only appreciates the importance of finding the cut of meat you want, but who also knows the least likely places can yield the best food.
“You’ll never believe this is a meat market,” she told me.
Denver, 20 miles northwest of Charlotte, sometimes looks like the whole town is a collection of former gas stations that are now produce stands and garden centers. The only way you know you’re near Lake Norman is that there’s a boat lot instead of a car lot on the edge of town.
So you can drive right past the Triangle Food Mart, 1298 N. N.C. 16, without noticing it. You’ll see the gas pumps first, under a yellow roof with the slogan “Daytona Pit Stop.” You have to look really close to see “Meat Market” on the sign.
Inside, it’s mostly a convenience store, with the usual rack of phone cards and BC Powders. You wouldn’t expect anything closer to a meat market than a box of Slim Jim’s.
Sure enough, though, there’s a meat case in the back, filled with things like Black Canyon Angus steaks. Tri tips. Bottom rounds. A lot of stuff ready to be cut to order.
Ken Phillips is the owner. And he knows his meat cuts. We quickly got into a lively discussion on brisket sizes, butchering and aging times.
He takes a lot of pride in his ground beef, made in-house with no fillers.
“The supermarket gets ground beef in a big tube. We make our chuck from chuck. We grind everything right here.”
Phillips has found a new specialty in Buffalo. That would be “transplants from Buffalo, N.Y.,” not bison: Phillips stocks Sahlen’s hot dogs and Chiavetta’s Barbeque Marinade. People come from as far as 100 miles away to buy them, he says.
“You wouldn’t believe people would drive this far for a hot dog,” he says.
Phillips’ parents started the meat market 30 years ago. And it’s attracted a following for quality and prices.
“People ask all the time, ‘How does a gas station become a meat market?’ Back 30 years ago, we were the grocery store. We were the only game in town.”
When his parents, Ken and Barbara, opened the store in the early 1980s, most people had to drive to Charlotte for groceries. These days, he does a lot of business with people who are getting things for cookouts at the lake:
“Steaks and burgers. Steaks, steaks, steaks.”
So today, Triangle Mart is a gas station, a convenience store, and, yes, an unlikely looking meat market.
“The meat, that’s what we do. Gas, beer – that’s OK. But that” – Phillips points back to the meat case – “that’s what we do.”
Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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