Mike Dunlap is a trained chef and butcher, a licensed meat processor, and one very busy guy. The first time I call him, he can't talk because it's the day he spends with his kids. (I love that he puts them first, even though he could use the publicity I'm offering). The next time I reach him, he's in his car driving to inspect a farm where he hopes to pasture some bison.He raises the animals and then sells the meat. Dunlop runs Fresh, a cafe, deli and butcher shop in Broadview Heights where he offers locally raised beef, bison, pork, lamb and poultry as well as his own house made sausages; keeps a smokehouse cooking out back; sells his stuff at a few farmer's markets; and heads up a catering company, He's also a guy with a conscience and a desire to do good. So in 2012 he partnered with the North Royalton/Broadview Heights Rotary to launch a program that helps feed the hungry in this area.
It's called Meat the Need. Hunters donate whole, tagged, field dressed and legally harvested deer bringing it to Dunlap's store. "Game like this is a natural free range source of healthy meat," he says, "and other cities and counties around the country are doing something similar. We're the first to try it here."
Animals that conform to a set of strict food safety standards are processed and the venison is ground and packaged. This year it will be distributed through both the Broadview Heights Food Bank and the Cleveland Food Bank and Dunlap will make some available as sausages. "The first donations came in last night," Dunlap told me on the phone yesterday, "and it was only the second day of hunting season. Members of my staff and I were here until 11:30 processing six deer. We were pushing to get the work done because the Broadview Food Bank was out of protein and we wanted to be sure they could get the meat to families by the weekend."
To encourage sportsmen to participate, Dunlap offers a discount on additional deer they want processed for their own consumption. Those who are not skilled with guns or bows can donate cash: every dollar counts, according to Dunlap, and sizable gifts earn the giver a Fresh gift card. For more information on the program and how it works call him at 440-740-1099 and check out the group's Facebook page for updates.
Since many have no idea how tasty venison can be or how to prepare it, the Broadview Heights Human Services Department is sponsoring a free cooking class and tasting at Dunlap's store on November 7 at 7 PM. Attendance is limited to 25 and you must sign up by calling 440-526-4074.
But even if you can't get there that night or get a seat, there are many reasons to go visit Fresh. You can talk vension with Dunlap, eat lunch (the menu is fat with tempting sandwiches and soups and you can see it online), purchase chops, roasts, whole fryers and turkeys, and side dishes made in house.
And then there's his charcuterie. Listening to Mike describe what he offers and how he makes it had me salivating. "I do the traditional ethnic sausages, like kielbasa, Italian, chorizo, brats, and even hot dogs. And I create my own versions too. One of the most popular starts with a local Peking duck. I confit the legs, pull off the meat and combine it with pork, that's local too, and season the mixture with cranberries and sage I pick from my garden." You'll also find his own line-up of chicken sausages, jerky and smokies in a variety of flavors, hurka, goose liver, smoked head cheese, corn beef and pastrami.
Although he's been in business for about four years I have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I only recently came across his name. I mentioned that to him and he said that without a budget for advertising he's had to rely on "his mouth" and the goodwill of his customers to spread the word. I'm happy to be in the loop now and happier still to share his story and promote Meat the Need so that more people have the chance to sit down for a good meal. And if you know any hunters, please share this post with them before the season ends in December. "You'd be surprise how many folks out there have good hearts," Dunlap says. He clearly is one of them.