Where the Meat's Definitely a Cut Above

by Tina Danze, Dallas freelance writer

Fresher is always better, whether it's a side of beef or an elk burger, at Plano butcher shop.

Ye Ole Butcher Shop doesn't look like a major meat market. Its small refrigerator case holds a modest selection of steaks, briskets, roasts, and chops. You can buy one steak or a whole side of beef, one pork loin or the whole hog, raw meat for the freezer or smoked meat for tonight. And while you wait for your order to be wrapped in freezer paper, you can get a darned good cheeseburger. Owner and butcher Jeff Sparks has worked at the shop since he was a teenager in the 1970s. Back then, it was owned by the late Bob Giddiens. Mr. Giddiens trained Mr. Sparks, then sold him the business when he retired in 1986.

Since then, Mr. Sparks has served customers from Plano, Dallas, and other neighboring cities. "People move away but come back to shop here," he says. On a recent Saturday, there's a short line at the counter at 3:15 p.m., well past the day's business peak.

Mr. Sparks engages each customer in pleasant small talk. An elderly couple at the meat counter contemplates a purchase to accompany the chitterlings they have at home. A Collin County Sheriff's Department officer orders a cheeseburger.

Shirley Nolan has come from Wylie to buy a big meat variety package for her freezer. "We don't have a meat market in Wylie, and I can't find what I like at the grocery store," says the 61-year-old former Plano resident, who visits the store several times a year. She says it's worth the 30-minute drive because "the food's fresher here." Mr. Sparks chats with her as he carries six bundles of meat to her car.

Annette Moss, also from Plano, has been a weekly customer for almost four years. "I love the smoked sausage, and they have excellent cuts of steak," she says. It's been a good week for Mr. Sparks. He butchered a 216-pound beef side ($669) for a longtime customer who shops there every six months.

Although the butcher shop specializes in butchering and packaging beef sides, quarters, and hinds, Mr. Sparks says his biggest seller is the ground beef that he grinds fresh daily. Like everything else in the market, it's cheaper if you buy it in bulk: 10 pounds for about $24. Some of Mr. Sparks' business is seasonal. In the fall, he offers deer processing for hunters. In the summer, he says, sales of whole suckling pig spike, as people host luaus and backyard pig roasts. A 40- to 50-pound pig sells for $3 per pound; for an extra $50 it comes smoked, with an apple in its mouth on a bed of lettuce, set on a big wooden plank.

The shop's burger business varies throughout the week, too. Old-fashioned hamburgers attract a lunch crowd every day, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, buffalo burgers are offered as well, and on Wednesdays, elk burger is the special. I return to the table where my teenager is eating a regular cheeseburger and a side of potato salad. She says it's probably the best burger she's ever had. Surprised, I ask what sets it apart from the others. Without hesitation, she answers, "It's better meat."