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Penn Dutch Food Center


A South Florida Theme Park For Gourmands

Pleasures of the Flesh

Penn Dutch Food Center's new Margate superstore joins its Hollywood location as a mecca for food lovers in South Florida.


Published 4/27/04 in The Miami Herald

On the west side of I-95 in Hollywood, between Stirling Road and Sheridan Street, a gigantic sign with distinctive Gothic lettering beckons passersby to a paradise for gourmands -- especially the carnivorous kind.

Drivers who venture off the highway and through the adjacent gray, warehouse-lined streets are rewarded with a staggering selection of beef, pork, veal, lamb and poultry plus house-made hams, sausages, cold cuts and much more. Butchers are on duty to cut and trim by request -- cubing legs of lamb for shish kebabs, for example, or ''frenching'' (stripping) the bones on a crown roast of pork.

Penn Dutch Food Center is a South Florida landmark. The family-owned operation began here in 1975, when Edwin and Sophie Salsburg relocated their meat business from Pennsylvania Dutch country near Reading, Pa. -- hence the name. (The mustachioed, tam-topped fellow on their logo is a Pennsylvania Dutchman.)

Today, their grandson Greg Salsburg, 36, is company president, running the 38,000-square-foot store and a brand-new, 70,000-square-foot super center in Margate with his father, Bill, uncle Paul, younger brother Rick and sisters Kara and Amy. A fourth generation is on deck, with one of Rick's sons already at the Margate store and another set the join the team after his college graduation next month.

''We may be known as a meat market, but we have a lot more to offer,'' says Greg Salsburg.

And that's true. At both locations, the produce section is the first area a shopper encounters -- shelves and bins heaped with everything from potatoes to papayas.

There's a full-service seafood counter at each store with whole fish (locally caught, when possible), fillets and steaks and all manner of shellfish. Wild salmon is featured several times a year.

The dairy and deli cases offer a wide selection of domestic and imported cheeses. The deli counter also beckons with prepared salads, side dishes, pastas, knishes, dumplings, arepas, barbecued ribs and rotisserie chickens.

Freezer cases bulge with huge bags of vegetables, stuffed patties, empanadas, pastas and shrimp. Shelves hold the usual grocery items, and the bakery turns out breads, rolls, pies, cakes and other sweet treats.

And there's something new at the Margate store: a concise collection of wines and cold beers.


But meat is Penn Dutch's claim to fame. For starters, Greg Salsburg says, the company buys directly from producers.

``No middlemen. We buy grain-fed beef, for example, age it and cut it ourselves. Pork comes straight from the Carolinas. No wholesalers.''

The custom approach doesn't stop there. There's a reason the vast array of sliced meats, salamis, bolognas, hot dogs and other sausages carry Penn Dutch labels.

''They're old family recipes,'' said Salsburg. ``We don't buy them from other suppliers or middlemen. They're made right here. We also cure and smoke our hams, pastrami, smoked sausage and the rest. That's our secret. We even bake our own rolls and bagels, and we also make our own Nova Scotia lox and spiral-cut hams.''

A tour of the back-shop processing facilities at the Hollywood store is a meat lover's equivalent of a Bono fan's pass to a U2 recording session.

There's a smoke room full of hams, whole turkeys and turkey breasts and a cold room stacked high with boxes of beef aging for three weeks. In another area, Salsburg points out a new machine that cuts pork loins into chops without shattering the bone, eliminating shards. In yet another room, machines grind sausage meat, mix it with custom spice blend, grind it again and force it into casings.

Though the production areas are clean and uncluttered, Salsburg says space is tight.

``We tried to buy out our neighbors on either side of us here in Hollywood because there's no room for us to grow. That's why we opened the new store.''


The expansion introduces customers in northern Broward and southern Palm Beach counties to Penn Dutch's competitive pricing. Comparison shopping last weekend at four other major grocery outlets found Penn Dutch the lowest or second lowest on six meat-case items, often by a wide margin. (Example: skirt steak was $3.99 a pound there, $4.34 at Wal-Mart, $4.99 at Albertson's and Publix and $6.99 at Winn Dixie.)

The atmosphere at both the Hollywood and Margate stores is unpretentious and accommodating. Penn Dutch, for example, was a pioneer in stocking specialty meats like goat, souse (head cheese) and chicken feet (crucial for Chinese chicken stock) to please its ethnically and economically diverse clientele. It also carries capon, goose, duck, whole lambs and suckling pigs.

''If we don't have it, we can get it in 24 hours or less,'' Salsburg said.

But the lack of stuffiness doesn't mean the place is anything less than heaven for sophisticated food lovers. The variety is dazzling -- and at times startling.
A case in point: I've loved skirt steak all my life. It may have been the first thing I learned to cook as a kid, frying wax paper-wrapped portions that my mother left in the freezer for me. During one Penn Dutch visit some years ago, I curiously eyed a piece of beef that resembled my favorite cut but wasn't as flat, had an odd, cartilaginous seam in the middle and was labeled ``beef hanging tender.''


I inquired of the worker filling the adjacent case and, to make a long story short, hanger steak (an alternate appellation) has replaced skirt steak in my repertoire -- usually at about a dollar a pound less. A few years later, I read that it was all the rage among the culinary in-crowd.

Just recently, I tried Penn Dutch's ''chicken'' steak, a top blade steak from the beef chuck (shoulder). A little Internet sleuthing informed me that it was also known as flat iron steak and was the newest hip cut at Manhattan restaurants. Nice to know that folksy, friendly Penn Dutch is on the cutting edge of gustatory trends.

Food lovers in the southern reaches of South Florida might like to think that Penn Dutch, with one expansion under its belt, could be heading their way someday. No such luck, according to Salsburg.

''This is it,'' he said. ``We wouldn't want to grow so big that we couldn't maintain our standards. Bigger isn't always better.''


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