Where to buy meat: Drewes Bros. Meats

DrewesI must confess that I started this post several times already, and repeatedly held back. For you see, though I do endorse Drewes Bros, I cannot do so unconditionally. There have been the occasional incidents that have set me off about the place. But I have overcome them, and now I can evangelize the place by way of including a guide to navigating it. Consider me your Drewes Bros sherpa.

There is much to like about Drewes. It is, in fact, one of the longest-running independent businesses in the city of San Francisco, dating back to 1889 (and believed to be the oldest meat market in California). It’s a neighborhood joint, frequented by neighborhood folks, and still retains the down-home feel of Baja Noe, which is on the very brink of serious gentrification. It is, unapologetically, a meat market. You go here for meat, meat and more meat. They sell a few other things, but whatever. Just buy the damn meat.

And the meat is good and plentiful. Whatever you’re looking for, they’ve got it — once through the barnyard. Much of it is local and/or organic, like the Petaluma Poultry Rocky and Rosie birds, which are recommendable. They sell some value-added items like a pretty darn good burger mix and some lovely stuffed porkchops. A small freezer case off to the side sports convenient half-pound bags of ground beef, pork and lamb, as well as some less savory bits for the family pets. There’s even a seafood case, and recent experience has taught us that their crab cakes are respectably tasty, though they are more accurately called fish cakes since they are at least as much cod as crab. Still, they’re good.

The owners are two brothers, albeit not named Drewes. (They’re Josh and Isaac Epple.) They’re young, handsome and clearly very serious about their business. Unfortunately, there is some arrogance that comes with that. On more than one occasion, I’ve called or gone in and said, "I want ____." To which they ask, what are you doing? I explain, and they counter that I want something completely different. We talk around the issue for ten minutes or so, until they finally say, "Oh! You want ____." Which was the thing I asked for in the first place. Why we need to play this game eludes me.

Now, there are three or four others who work there, older men, all curiously diminutive and all exceedingly friendly chaps. Rather than calling your request into question, they provide you what you ask for, and provide helpful cooking tips as well as amiable banter about television shows, movies, whatever. These are the ones to deal with.

So, the mild attitude of the owner brothers aside, Drewes is highly recommendable. It’s a throwback to old-school neighborhood business yet well adapted to modern sensibilities. In an age when supermarkets and, worse, WalMarts have eliminated the relationship between the butcher and the customer, Drewes keeps the old vanguard alive. The prices remain reasonable. And it is mere steps from one of my favorite produce stands.

Drewes Bros. Meats
1706 Church St (at 29th St.)

Edit: Per Anita’s comments, I decided to downgrade them from butcher to meat market, since I cannot say with any certainty that they do serious butchering.

  • I *so* want to love Drewes. We’ve gone there a couple of times on your recommendation, but I have to say they’re not even on the short list anymore.
    As far as I can tell, they don’t do any butchering beyond taking large cuts (like tenderloin) and turning them into smaller cuts (like filet mignon) — they certainly aren’t turning whole sides of beef into primals and then into their component parts. I wouldn’t even be surprised to find out that they buy all their meat pre-butchered from other sources. They’re not butchers; they’re simply a meat shop.
    Frankly, if I want a Rosie chicken or a Niman Ranch strip steak, there are about a dozen more-convenient places to get them. (And I say this as someone who lives not much further from 29th and Church than you guys do.) They don’t carry a very wide selection of cuts, either, and when you ask them for something that’s not sufficiently glamourous, they sneer at you. Feh.

  • Yeah, I hear ya … but as for the more-convenient part you are speaking as a car owner. For us, the only place that is more convenient is Bell Market, and you know what that’s like. I’d rather buy meat from the back of a truck.

  • vicki

    I just moved to the noe area and found your blog. Where is this produce stand?

  • My apologies — I was referring to a previous post, but neglected to link back. It’s at Church/30th.

  • paul

    Nice website, the tastespotting section is not only gorgeous but turns out to be informative and interesting too. I had just read about Drewes in Dwell, and decided to see if I could find out more about them (their own website doesn’t have their hours listed) and I found you. I live downtown, so Drewes isn’t convenient, but that could make it an outing, if it’s also not the hassle you’ve experienced. After my BiRite experiences (what is this with customers not being able to use the toilet? I came all the way here, and have a hike back to the J, and I can’t use your damn toilet?) I am glad to have the heads-up. I love to support the local merchant, but when they make me jump through hoops, I’m just as happy with the big Evil WF, which is in my part of town.
    Am I the only one in this supposedly environmentally friendly town who seems surprised that it is so hard to get baristas not to automatically cover and sleeve a cup? I try to bring my own cup (along with everything else I might need when I leave my apartment, afoot) but I often don’t get that organized. There are several coffee houses where I am at times a fairly regular customer, to the point they know I’m going to have a double expresso, and yet here comes the lid. Such a waste of plastic, and often, once it’s on, it goes in the trash even if the person behind the counter takes it off. Where is the Green disconnect?

  • I don’t know that I would schlep all the way out from downtown to go specially to Drewe’s; you might have better luck going to Little City or some of the other meat markets in North Beach or Chinatown. And, frankly, Whole Foods doesn’t suck in the meat department, their politics aside.
    I can understand BiRite not offering their toilets for public use — having lived around the corner from it for 11 years, I can attest to a serious homeless problem in and around the park. Plus, as they are not a restaurant, they are under no obligation to offer bathrooms, so why invest in the additional expense and effort?
    As for the coffee thing, I have to confess that this is one area I am lazily not green … and need to get on the ball about it. I get a couple cups of coffee from Il Fornaio a week (being the only option besides Charbucks in my neighborhood), and I dispose of paper cups, sleeves and lids. You’ve shamed me back into shape.

  • John Barron-Wike

    Horsepuckey! What a baby! Drewes Bros. is a great place: they do butcher, and they are very easy to get along with, even Josh…if you don’t act like you want your ass kissed. If you do, they’ll do the opposite. I’ve been a customer there for 10 years. I’m going there after i send this flippin’ message. And i don’t take attitude from them or anybody, and they are fine with that. And…best meat in town. Cheers.

  • Well, I do still go there. Can’t beat the convenience since I live just a few blocks away. And, they did cut our whole country ham into 1/2″ steaks for us.