Welcome to the first installment of “An Interview With.” Every two weeks, I’ll post an interview with a Bay Area food connoisseur, giving you a new perspective on your favorite restaurant, local market, fishmonger, wine shop or coffeehouse. This week, go behind the counter of your neighborhood butcher shop.
Jerry Ver Brugge is owner of the popular Ver Brugge Meats & Seafood on College Avenue in Oakland. Known for competitive prices and high-quality products, Ver Brugge offers conscious East Bay residents an alternative to everyday supermarket meat. You’ll find homemade sausages, local chicken, Niman Ranch pork, grass-fed steaks, a variety of fresh seafood and an array of artisanal cheeses and condiments. Don’t bother looking for coupons – Ver Brugge’s only forms of advertising are Jerry’s hand-painted signs that brightly hang from the storefront window.
How long has your store been open?
I opened the butcher shop 30 years ago. I built it. It used to be Albatross Restaurant. College Avenue was not what it is now. It took us 3 years to turn a profit, and no one would sell us burglary insurance. It’s changed a lot since the seventies.
What do you like most about being a butcher?
The social aspect. We know our customers, we know their children, their grandchildren and even their pets. But, I’m not only a butcher – I also race old sports cars.
Where do you get most of your meat?
Most of our beef comes from Creekstone Farms in Kentucky. They treat their animals humanely, and take good care in everything they do. Our lamb comes from Sacramento Valley, and our fish is from all over. I’m getting some scallops delivered later on from Massachusetts.
What kind of questions do your customers ask most often?
Our customers ask where the meat comes from, how it was raised and how we cut it. Butchering meat is an art form, and one that many young people don’t really know about. I come from a family of engineers – we are all perfectionists and extremely meticulous. I try to set standards like that for all my employees.
What should people look for when buying a cut of meat?
There are a few ways to look at a cut of meat. The “conformation” is the shape of the meat. For the butcher, he must look at the whole animal and make sure the leg bones aren’t too long or the fat too thick. You should also look at the “finish,” meaning the texture of the meat itself. It shouldn’t look serrated. The “quality” of the meat refers the marbling – there should be an even amount of fat marbling inside the meat. In terms of grading, Prime is the best you can get. Only about 1% of beef gets the Prime label. Next is Choice, and about 20% of beef is considered Choice. From there, it goes down to Select and Commercial. We only carry Prime and Choice.
What is the most unusual type of meat you’ve had in the store?
We had rattlesnake once, it was beheaded and skinned. We also had elk, quail, partridge, squab, some crocodile and even kangaroo. It’s not often though; unusual products like that are not our specialty.
If I wanted to grind my own meat for hamburgers, which cut would you recommend?
Brisket is all the rage right now. It has about 15% fat, which is perfect for hamburgers. You really don’t want a higher percentage than that.
Who is Thadeus and what makes his sausages so special?
Thadeus is one of my employees. He makes the sausage here, and he is extremely precise. They are always very tasty. He’s not the only one here who makes sausage either. We have sausages made from duck, goat, chicken and even seafood.
What is the best domestic replacement for Kobe Beef?
Many farms use the same methods for making Kobe style beef – like Oregon Kobe. The difference is the actual breed, which you can only find in Japan. My favorite steak is a rib-eye. Prime rib-eye is just delicious – great flavor.
Beside steak, what is your favorite thing to eat?
I love Mexican food. Carnitas, enchiladas, everything that’s not good for you.
Ver Brugge Meats & Seafood
6321 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618