Knowing the people who grow and sell your food is not a matter of culinary elitism. It’s about cultivating and maintaining a sense of community, something that’s increasingly difficult in this age of convenience. A little love goes a long way when it comes to food. And that’s why it’s such a joyous occasion to discover a gem like Shield’s Meat Market (1554 N. Decatur Road, 404-377-0204). Geoff Irwin’s old-fashioned butcher shop has weathered the storms of “progress” since 1947. The market’s latest location in Emory Village (it used to be in downtown Decatur) is hidden in plain sight, as the signage is quite similar to the adjoining CVS.
The store is stocked with everything you need for dinner: spices, canned Italian tomatoes, a small selection of wine in a range of prices, assorted freshly baked breads from Alon’s Bakery and a pristine selection of produce and cheeses. First-time visitors may wonder, “Where’s the beef?” Don’t fret. Most of the meats are stored in the back and cut to order in the room marked with the funny sign: “Nobody gets in to see the wizard! Not no body, not no how!” Shield’s does this not only to ensure that the choice cuts of corn-fed beef are as fresh as possible, but also cut to each customer’s exact specifications.
The enclosed front case holds plenty of grab-ready items if you are in a rush. Whole chickens peak out from underneath a blanket of ice. Pre-portioned roasts and flats of boneless chicken sit alongside sirloin burgers wrapped in Applewood bacon and freshly made pulled pork barbecue. One of the most popular items, the meatloaf (available in 1.5 and 2-pound loaves), is made in-house using an old-school Italian recipe with freshly ground pork, veal, beef, croutons and spices. Massive meatballs are made with the same recipe and weigh in around a quarter-pound each. Another notable buy, Irwin’s homemade Italian sausages, are piled into a tall coil and available in spicy or sweet. If you’re tired of sub-par boiled and injected deli meats, give Shield’s roast beef or dry-roasted ham a shot.
Fresh seafood options are the only thing lacking, although large shrimp are normally available. The frozen case is brimming with fish that’s processed, frozen and immediately shipped to Shield’s. The frozen case also has items such as ground bison and chorizo. In true one-stop-shop fashion, the market offers a wide variety of sides such as the popular twice-baked potatoes stuffed with sour cream, chives, bacon, onions and cheddar cheese, or individual down-home casseroles.
Irwin’s right-hand men, Moose Wylde — quite possibly the most perfect name for a butcher ever — and the saucy Gene Swann, who has been cutting meat for 62 of his 79 years, embody the very spirit of customer service. If they don’t have something you want, they’ll order it for you. No time to cook, but you have a hankering for a leg of lamb cooked on the rotisserie? Give them enough notice and they’ll hook you up. There are loyal customers who give the guys a budget to make dinner for their family twice a week. When was last time your supermarket meat counter did that?