Last weekend, Elizabeth put together a day of things she knew I’d like in honor of our anniversary.  It included some old favorites, like dinner at Filomena, and some things I had only talked about wanting to do in the past, like kayaking on the Potomac (something we’ve wanted to do for a while, reinforced by a beautiful post from Arugula Files back in August).  But she took it a step further; instead of simply checking off a list of things we had previously done or talked about, she sought out a place I hadn’t even heard of.  No surprise – it was a home run.

The Organic Butcher of McLean is a carnivore’s delight, with cases of sustainable seafood, wild (and farm-raised) game meats, and of course plenty of beautiful beef, pork, chicken and lamb.  With their sister store in Charlottesville, the Organic Butcher aims to “bring back the village butcher” while working with local farmers to highlight their products alongside similarly high-quality meats from a variety of regional sources.

More about the butchers and their mission, photos and our experience with OB’s handmade merguez after the jump.

Opened in early 2006 by owner Don Furlow, the Organic Butcher of McLean is definitely a throw-back to old school butcher shops.  Walking in the front door, you’re immediately greeted with a view of a large refrigerated case filled with some of the most arresting cuts of meat you’re likely to see in real life – vibrant, red beef; richer, wine-colored lamb; pale pink pork loins.  They take pride in dressing most of the meat they sell on-site, and they have store-made products like sausages and meatloaf that further demonstrate their skills and the quality of their products.

Don’t go tunnel-vision at this point, or you’ll miss out on the rest of their selections.  A smaller case off to the left holds game meats – dressed rabbit, whole ducks, cured duck breasts, venison loin, wild boar, and others – and another that pushes up toward the front of the store touts their support of sustainable seafood.  Windex must be a major expense for the butchers, as the products in the cases practically beg you to press your nose right up against the glass for a better look.

To taste their work, we decided to bring home a pair of plump merguez sausages, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to prepare our purchase until the following evening and not wanting to subject the fresh-cut meats to that extra delay in our refrigerator.  The sausages were a mouth-watering rust color, promising a chili-infused heat to accompany the flavor of the meat itself.  We decided that they would be best without too much fussing on our parts, so we set them to cook slowly on the stove over low heat with just a dash of olive oil in the pan and watched as their color turned from a rusty red to a rich brown.  I served them with a disappointing kale dish that failed to pick up the harissa and other Mediterranean spices I braised it in.  Thankfully, the sausages did not disappoint.

The texture struck us right off the bat.  The coarsely ground beef and lamb that filled the casing retained its own texture, unlike so many store-bought sausages whose meat becomes an indistinguishable mush when cooked.  The aroma was spicy and smoky.  And the flavor brought it all together – rich without being heavy, meaty at first but then followed by a lingering smoky heat.  We wished we had bought more – and we’ll probably be making another trip to do just that sooner rather than later.

A word of caution: the Organic Butcher’s name is more a guiding principle than a guarantee.  While some of their offerings are organic, there are far more that can be better classified as farm-raised, locally-grown (most come from Virginia or Pennsylvania) or humanely-raised.  The byzantine procedures and regulations that go into organic certification – even more laborious in Virginia than at the national level – mean that many small farms whose methods meet the organic criteria don’t bother to seek the certification.  Even so, the Organic Butcher is proud to carry certified organic beef and pork from local sources…you just need to make sure you read the labels and ask questions before you buy.

The shop’s cramped quarters feature a range of other organic and locally-produced foods, as well – jellies and sauces, artisan-produced breads, cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, and even organic beers, wines and hard ciders.  We found ourselves pleasantly surprised by how much time we could spend looking around, asking questions, and generally shopping in such a small venue.  In addition to our merguez we left with a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider and a bottle of Saint Peter’s English Ale.

The Organic Butcher of McLean is actually pretty easy to get to from DC – just take the George Washington Parkway north to Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) and head out toward McLean and Tysons Corner.  Turn left onto Old Dominion Drive and keep your eyes peeled for the black-and-white striped awnings on your left hand side.  The OB can be found in a strip mall that also boasts the Corner Bistro and Joe’s Burgers (a tiny gourmet burger joint that offers buffalo, venison and ostrich as well as basic burgers with a variety of toppings).

They’re closed on Mondays, but you can visit the Organic Butcher for all your prime cuts and responsible seafood needs Tuesday through Saturday from 11 to 7 and Sundays from 11 to 5.

The Organic Butcher
6712 Old Dominion Drive
McLean, VA  22101
(703) 790-8300