Dismayed, Angel Torres glances at his meat case.
“It just isn’t like it was in the old day anymore,” he says, presiding over whole flap steaks, smoked salmon sides, and vacuum-sealed bags of oxtail.
Decades ago, Torres would rise before 5 a.m. to get to the now-defunct (and legitimate) Hialeah slaughterhouses where salesmen would help him stake his claim with blue stamps on the hogs of his choice.
It’s the kind of thing the now-63-year-old owner of the Butcher Shop in Palmetto Bay grew up learning in Cuba’s Oriente province alongside his father and uncles.
“These were the days before refrigeration,” he says. “Anything that wasn’t sold during he day was salted and cured. I can’t even do that now because the health inspector would be all over me.”
Torres fled Cuba without his parents in a Pedro Pan-like operation in 1967 that took him first to Madrid, then New Jersey, and eventually to Miami, where his parents would meet him.
As the years progressed and the old-style of butchering wore away, his 36-year-old shop tucked into a South Dixie Highway strip mall has grown as a lunch spot for more than one good reason.
The king of them all, however, is the pan con lechón. It comes in two sizes: a small that clocks in around six inches for $2.99 and a large that approaches a foot for $5.99. Torres's customers chew through about 200 pounds of mojo-braised pig studded with onions and crisp skin daily. But all of that seems insignificant when you realize this place bakes its own bread.
Torres leads the way through the kitchen to proudly show off a proofing case where off-white loaves slowly expand. They create a sandwich that, when pressed, crisps into an impossibly thin crust, akin in texture to the Indian lentil crackers called papadum. The interior holds its juice, propped up by a shot of doctored mojo sauce he calls mojito, which is also available in a squirt bottle on the counter where you sit.
“Sorry, man, only me and him know how to make that one,” says David Matos, a 36-year-old with a clean-shaven head who has been Torres’ right hand since Matos began working there at age 19.
What results is one of Miami’s best pan con lechón.
But that’s not all. The Butcher Shop also serves pork ribs ($8.99) braised in mojo with a heroic dose of honey that creates an almost char-sui-on-steroids meal that’s sweet and sour.
Wednesday's special is rabo encendido ($14.99), and picadillo ($8.99) is available every day, though it’s usually sold out by 1 p.m., Torres says.
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He has easily found ways around the shifting nature of the industry and has a hefty catering business alongside the store. In back, some of his employees, among them nieces and nephews, peel and grind corn to make hundreds of pork tamales for an event the next day.
Still, it’s tragic to see that a butcher who once delighted in breaking down whole hogs and sides of beef has been relegated to precut box meat. His business thrives on weekdays, but one can’t help wonder what it would be like to leave with a belly full of pan con lechón and an armful of freshly cut rib roast.
The Butcher Shop is located at 14235 S. Dixie Hwy., Palmetto Bay; 305-253-9525. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.