Salem's: If you like your meat local, tasty and inexpensive

| Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011

Of the many good things that barely exist anymore, you don't usually think of butcher shops. But then again, where are they all hiding?

If you think about it, your options for truly fresh meat are fairly limited, even in the culinary cornucopia of the Strip District. Now, however, there's Salem's Grill -- a butcher shop that's also houses a Middle Eastern restaurant and grocery. It's an extension of Salem's long-lived, but much smaller, Oakland location.

Salem's sits on an otherwise-desolate stretch in the industrial part of the Strip District -- standing out from the warehouses and machine shops mostly because of a bright, multicolored mural that wraps around the building.

"Our motto is, 'We're the closest thing to back home, no matter where you're from,' " says Abdullah Salem, whose family runs the two Salem's shops.

"When we first started out, we mostly sold to Muslim people. Then our big customers were old Italians and Greeks in Oakland, because they're looking for that. Then slowly but surely, all the people who were butchering were closing down."

Beef or lamb from Salem's tastes quite different for a reason.

"Our meat is halal," Salem explains. "It's kosher-slaughtered. That's the biggest reason people come here. We don't shoot or shock any animal. When an animal is cut kosher or halal, it leaves the meat pretty much 95 percent blood-free -- which is a big difference."

It's not frozen, or trucked in from far away.

"Your grocery store meat -- you don't know if it was killed last month, or today," Salem says. "It's Cryovaced in a bag. It's frozen, then it's thawed out.

"Our lambs are Washington, Pa., lambs. The bulk of our lambs come from a 120-mile radius. It's not an Australian lamb that came here a year ago and went into the freezer. We don't do anything pre-packaged."

It's an approach that just happens to coincide with a lot of current food trends.

"Every time there's a big (meat) recall, we get a little bit more busy," Salem says. "We were selling all-natural meat before all-natural meat was popular. We've been selling locally raised meat since 1980, before anyone cared about locally raised meat.

"Now, people are saying to watch all the ingredients you put into things. Everybody's starting to become aware. But businesses are capitalizing greatly. So, when you want to eat a local all-natural steak, you've normally got to pay $50. In our restaurant, you pay $9."

The restaurant at Salem's -- a spare, bare-bones operation adjacent to the market/butcher shop -- tries to keep prices down, on principle.

"We're a family business," Salem says. "People come to us with 5 or 6 kids. I prefer to have 150 people in the door and sell them for $5 each than have 75 people in the door and sell them for $10 each. All our dinners range from $6 to $9."

The Meat Shawarma ($6.99), lamb or beef, is a favorite, as is the boneless chicken Shish Tawook ($7.50).

A number of dishes reflect Salem's growing proportion of Jamaican and Indian customers, like spicy Tandoori Chicken ($6.99) and Lamb or Goat Curry ($6.99).

Oddly enough, Salem has found that a large portion of his customers are vegetarians, for which there are several kinds of Veggie Curry ($5.99), including chickpeas and sauce, lentils and spinach.

Most dishes come with rice, a small salad and pita bread.

Additional Information:

Salem's Grill

Location: 2923 Penn Ave., Strip District

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; noon to 5:30 p.m. Sundays.

Details: 412-235-7828

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