Frankfurt Doner & Meats owner Detley Werner and daughter Annette help customers at their downtown Ball Ground store. A spinning roast can be seen in the back corner behind the counter. Doners, a European dish similar to a Gyro, are made from thin slices of this meat.
Detley Werner, the towering silver-headed butcher who owns Frankfurt Doner & Meats in Ball Ground, held his middle three fingers parallel to the floor for a quick lesson in selecting the choicest “unstressed” cuts.
“If you get a pork chop and lay it over your fingers, if it droops down you don’t want it,” Werner explained with a thick German accent and a personality so big it rivals his stature. “If it is stiff and lays flat across, you don’t want it. You want it to fall on each side just a little.”
My interest was piqued and Werner (pronounced “ver-ner”) happily expounded. Stressed and abused animals, he continued, have pH levels that are either too low or too high. When the pH level is low you get meat that is pale, soft and drippy. When the pH level is high the meat is overly dark, firm and dry.
Werner’s bone-deep knowledge of meat is the result of eight years of butchery training in his native country of Germany - three years of initial schooling followed by five more to receive a masters degree. The certificate hanging the small lobby of the Gilmer Ferry Road store proudly displays his title - “metzgermeister,” or master butcher.
Inside the meat case is the culmination of Werner’s 34 years of study and practice, a wash of reds, pinks, and browns. Prime cuts of ribeye and smoked pork chops entice, as do (and perhaps even more) the wide variety of homemade baked bologna loaves, Frankfurt Wieners, handcrafted sausages that range from the German Cabanossi to the Bratwurst and Andouille, and several types of potato salad.
I wanted to sample one of everything, but that would take time. In all Werner has 29 varieties of handcrafted meats on his menu, and he says give him a few days and he can customize anything you want.
“My recipes are old, like 200 years,” Werner said, serving up a slice of sausage-making history. “Sausage was like Coca-Cola used to be, used for medicine. It was a health thing 200 years ago in Europe. People couldn’t just eat nutmeg or whatever, so they put it into sausage.”
As I listened to Werner speak passionately about his craft, I realized butchery as a highly-skilled trade has been all but slaughtered by the supermarket, where the “butcher” does little more than cut steaks and display and sell prepackaged products for customers.
Werner speaks with pride about his no preservatives, no fillers, never-been-frozen meat-making philosophy, and said with the humor and hyperbole that punctuates much of his conversation, “I tell the customers if they don’t like it I’ll give ten times the money back, and no one ever complains.”
Tim Lucov, Werner’s soon-to-be son-in-law who apprentices at the store, admires Werner’s dedication to producing high-quality products, and enjoys learning what he says is a dying trade.
“[Werner’s] a great teacher,” Lucov says. “It just feels good to make something, not just buy it and resell it, but to make it and have people say they love it. He hand-selects every piece of meat that comes in here and I like knowing I’m learning something not a lot of people do anymore.”
Positioned behind the front counter, U.S. customers will find something that’s even more of a spectacle than the meaty palette in the refrigerated case; a giant roast spinning vertically on a spit.
Werner’s daughter Annette, who has a waist-long blonde braid that seems to mimic the circumference of a tube of salami, shaves off thin slices to make the popular European dish the “Doner” for customers.
“This is like the number one item in Europe,” Werner says. “It event beats McDonalds.”
While the dish is called “fast food” in Europe, I doubt most Americans would label it as such. The Doner, which originated in Turkey, is similar to a Gyro, but instead of shaved pork and sour-cream based sauce you get shaved beef and a low-fat yogurt based sauce. It’s served with Parisian bread, cucumber, tomato and red onion. You can get feta on it, too, if you’d like.
“It’s low in fat so it makes you feel good after you eat it, not slow,” Werner says.
While I was in the store midday on a Friday afternoon, several customers came in, two who had never been in before. One man bantered with Werner in German, another spoke about living in Germany for six years; and couple came in and sampled a few items from the case. If you’re a first timer you may even get some free samples. The first time I came in I got to take home a dried Landjaeger stick, the most expensive item in the case at $19.99/lb.
Werner is obviously a people person and enjoys getting to know his customers, and speaks highly of his home in the states, where he moved to on a whim with his wife and three children in 1993.
“I came to America to live with Americans, to try it out,” he said. “I love the American people, and being here. A guy came in and told me to go to Columbia or something where there are a lot of Germans. I said if I want to be with Germans I’ll live in Germany.”
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