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Pleasures of the Flesh

Petaluma's Thistle Meats proves doing it right tastes really good

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PLEASED TO MEAT YOU Lisa Modica, left, and Molly Best were friends before they opened Thistle Meats. - STETT HOLBROOK
  • Stett Holbrook
  • PLEASED TO MEAT YOU Lisa Modica, left, and Molly Best were friends before they opened Thistle Meats.

I was going to start this by saying you should visit Petaluma's Thistle Meats because the three-month-old butcher shop serves a lineup of beef, pork, goat, rabbit, and lamb sourced from a who's-who of local, sustainable, and humanely minded producers and that the shop makes the most of that meat with nose-to-tail, use-every-part-of-the-animal butchery right down to freshly made stock from leftover bones.

And I was going to say that the meat cost more, yes, but compared to what—factory-farmed, antibiotic-jabbed industrial meat wrapped in cellophane on a Styrofoam tray?

I was going to say all that because those things are true, and important. Even in a slow-food wonderland like the North Bay, Thistle is a rarity. But that all sounds too prescriptive, like you should recycle and call your mother more often.

Instead, I think Thistle Meats is worth your time and money because it's such a pleasurable experience. And pleasure is a great motivator.

Thistle Meats takes the old school ideal of the butcher shop— wisecracking men in white aprons cutting meat to order—and does it one better. Actually, two better. There are three talented male butchers on hand who each has his specialty (sausage, butchery, charcuterie), but the store is owned and operated by two smiling, exuberant women, friends-turned-business partners, Lisa Modica and Molly Best. The shop is their vision come to life.

Best grew up in Petaluma and realized one day that her ag-friendly town was missing something.

"It's Petaluma," she says. "Why isn't there a butcher shop?"

Modica came from Colorado to help her friend remedy that situation. Backed by a team of architects and builders, they gutted a North Petaluma Ave. storefront and turned it into a place of beauty. Exposed-brick walls, white subway tiles and a big butcher table give the light-filled shop a classic feel. The gleaming meat display showcases various cuts in an artful tableau that could serve as a subject for a latter-day Norman Rockwell. Bouquets of fresh flowers hang next to house-made sausages and local cheeses.

But this is a butcher shop, not a precious art gallery. The store breaks down whole animals from local producers like Stemple Creek Ranch, Green Star Farms and Monkey Ranch. The beef is dry-aged in-house. They make a variety of sausages. Salumi is coming. Look for the patties of harrisa-spiked goat sliders.

"That is the gateway to goat," Best confides.

The small kitchen in back also turns out a head cheese to make you forget that speckled meat jelly from the supermarket. There's a "sandwich of the day" served on a crusty ciabatta from nearby Della Fattoria bakery. In short, the shop is loaded with good food that checks just about every box: sustainable, local, humane. But what makes the place such a winner is that it is a work of passion and a celebration of the pleasures of good food.

It's a delicious truth that the most hedonistic pleasures, like a sun-warmed tomato plucked from your backyard garden or a grass-fed ribeye raised by a conscientious local rancher, tend to be the best thing for the planet. We eat them not because we should—but because they taste so good.

Now go call your mother.

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