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Last September, Dustin Mattern told his wife he'd be thrilled to open a butcher shop on a busy corner in any town in Elkhart County.
Oh, and it should be in a neat old building.
Dustin is a third-generation meat man. His grandfather, Jake, was a butcher who went into business in the 1950s with Boots Ingram at Ingram's Meat Land along U.S. 33 on the west side of Goshen. Over the years, he took over the business and called it Super Steer. Someone else put a restaurant alongside with the same name. And Bill Mattern -- Jake's son and Dustin's father -- joined and took over the business.
Super Steer provided meats to restaurants and a few other customers from its building along S.R. 4 on the east side of Goshen since moving there in 1983.
But in 2006, with Dustin wanting to continue his family's business, he and Bill opened a meat counter at American Countryside Farmers Market. "That solidified the fact that we wanted to do this for real," Dustin said.
They sold a lot of the sausage they make and the pork chops they smoke. Customers there asked them to make sandwiches, but they couldn't because other food vendors were doing so. The Matterns were one of the more successful vendors at the market until they pulled out a few weeks ago.
They got frustrated over time with the direction the market was going and what was and wasn't being done, they said. Last October, Dustin saw a "For Rent" sign in the former Newell's window at the corner of Main and Washington in Goshen. A number of phone calls and meetings later, the Matterns had a deal with Dave Pottinger to open Mattern's Butcher Shop & Corner Deli -- on a busy corner in the town where their business began in the 1950s.
Renovation began in January. It was a challenge, but they opened for the First Friday the beginning of May. And business has been good. On First Fridays, Mattern's is seeing 500 to 800 customers and feeding most of those, they said. Don't expect a deli sandwich, but you can get something off the grill, whether it's one of their smoked chops or a Kobe beef burger they buy from Joseph DeCuis in Roanoke, Ind.
"I'm a butcher shop," Dustin said of his place. But it's -- pun intended -- carving out a niche in downtown Goshen.
In the morning, they sell a few baked goods prepared by John's Bagels and Breadsmith. Employees even take items to downtown Goshen businesses for perusal and purchase.
At lunch, business is focused on soups and deli sandwiches. Business is 40 percent higher in the restaurant portion than Dustin expected.
After lunch and until closing at 6 p.m., customers come to buy from the meat case. On Wednesdays that means fresh seafood flown to Chicago and then brought to downtown Goshen. Seafood sales have been good at the Goshen location and the Matterns are trying to educate people on how to prepare fish at home. "It's so simple. It really is," Bill said.
Their business really is too -- work hard. Use good ingredients. Highlight your best stuff.
"I knew how much work it was because I'm around it," Bill said of the restaurant business.
They sell the full line of Dietz & Watson deli meats, which are more expensive than Ekrich and less familiar than Boar's Head, but of high quality. The hormone-free, MSG-free meat and cheese is just really good stuff. That's what goes in the deli sandwiches and what you can take home.
I won't go out of my way for a cold meat sandwich. I will for a good bowl of soup and Mattern's is expanding the range of what it's making in-house on a daily basis. But I might even crawl over glass to a good butcher shop and Mattern's has stuff that excites me.
Before coffee roasting was the hip thing for a small business owner to undertake in Elkhart County, there were butcher shops with smokehouses. The Matterns have been putting smoke into meat for a long time and their bacon and smoked chops are stellar.
They're experimenting with new sausage varieties and have a cheddar and potato sausage that's wonderful. Their steaks and pork tend to be of great quality. I haven't yet tried the fresh fish. I favor Pacific salmon over the Atlantic that Mattern's carries and haven't been swayed by what else I've seen in the case, but one of these week's I'll order something and grab it when it arrives.
Aside from good cuts of meat and advice on how to cook them, Mattern's has some specialty items that I'm thrilled to see in my hometown of Goshen.
* Spices from Terra Spice in Walkerton, which supplies big-name chefs and even has a piece of the action on "Top Chef." (I saw the label flash by in an episode this season.) Try the Tuscan Blend on chicken or grilled vegetables.
* Bone Suckin' sauces from Raleigh, N.C., and other barbecue and specialty sauces.
* Amore Tomato Paste, which comes in a toothpaste-like tube. I keep it in the refrigerator and use small amounts in soups and stews.
If you fell in love with the flavored olive oils at a specialty shop in Granger or beyond, Mattern's also has those too.
Elkhart County is lucky to have so many good butcher shops, a list that includes Old Hoosier in Middlebury, John's Butcher Block in Nappanee, D.C. Meats in Osceola, Martin's Processing in Wakarusa, Charlie's Butcher Block in Elkhart, and Dana J's in Goshen. And then there's Mattern's, which has a lovely, inviting space and good products -- on a busy corner in a neat, old building in Goshen.
* The debate about salad greens isn't raging, but isn't a limp leaf either. Reader Judy K. of Elkhart wrote, "What is with all this maligning of iceberg lettuce? It's fresh, crisp and sweet, and, I must say, it improves any mixture of its apparently higher class baby spinach and romaine cousins which tend toward the soft, limp side. I'm shocked, SHOCKED at such prejudice. But, I suppose that's what makes horse racing."
* Bill's Barbecue, after being closed for a number of years, is sending its sweet smoke skyward and into the meat. The restaurant at the corner of Franklin and Indiana in Elkhart is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Thanks to reader Jack Doke for the tip.
* Speaking of barbecue, it's time for more of that amazing stuff that's only occasionally available at Greater Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, 1829 Oakland Ave., Elkhart. The men and women of the church will be serving rib tips and chicken from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. until sold out on Saturday. Call ahead to 293-7957 for big orders.
* The fourth annual Russian Festival is being planned at Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Church, 61355 C.R. 21, Goshen. The parish fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday will include music, dancing and, ahh, food. Beef stroganoff, borscht and blini will all be available, as well as a number of other items. I was there last year and the food was delightful. For more information on the festival, see the preview on page C1.
* Mad Anthony's Old State Ale House, 526 S. Main St., Elkhart, is selling tickets to its inaugural OktoberFest, planned for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 the day of the event. German food will be sold, but the ticket includes a pint glass and unlimited beer sampling.
* Bear Creek Coffee Café closed on Aug. 29 at the corner of Second and Harrison in Elkhart. The sign on the door cited the poor economy, though I wonder if the quality of what they offered was strong enough to compete long-term.
Contact Marshall V. King at email@example.com and on Twitter at @hungrymarshall.
IF YOU GO
What: Mattern's Butcher Shop & Corner Deli
Where: 201 S. Main St., Goshen
Fare: Sandwiches, soups and baked goods, but also meat and specialty products
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 to 2 Saturday; also open First Fridays, Goshen's downtown festival on the first Friday evening of every month.
Details: Credit cards accepted; handicapped accessible; catering and deli trays available; no smoking