READERS' PICK: When it comes sliced, diced, cleaned and stuffed into a shrink-wrapped package, it's easy to convince yourself that all meats are created equal. But with sci-fi horrors come to life, like Mad Cow Disease and stubborn salmonella bacteria, these days we know that a USFDA rating is no guarantee that the meat on your table is harmless. What's a poor, steak-loving American to do? Shop at Wild Oats, where you'll find a butcher shop with a social and environmental conscience. The Boulder (Colorado)-based company offers evidence that not all chain stores are bad, selling all-natural (read: no animal by-products in their feed) Coleman beef out of Colorado -- non-irradiated, 100-percent antibiotic, steroid and cruelty-free. Coleman is a trusted brand name for beef, but Wild Oats applies the same strict criteria to all their products, including pork, (free-range) chicken and seafood. What's more, they have a corporate policy not to sell any product that doesn't adhere to basic healthful principles in both cultivation and harvesting. As of press time, for example, all Wild Oats stores were boycotting the sale of swordfish, sea bass and orange roughy, due to overfishing. The manager at the Oracle store said the folks in Colorado "send e-mail updates constantly" on suspect products, and that the store "won't sell (those fish) until the practices change, or the resource is resupplied." In other words, if you can't find it at Wild Oats, you shouldn't be buying it.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Drehers Quality Meats & Sausage, 7340 E. Broadway Blvd. The moment we walk through the door of Drehers, we're instantly transported to the days when we trailed Mom through the aisles, past jars of mustard and pickled delicacies, all the way to the meat counter where the butcher himself, clad in his spattered smock, would dole out portions. Mom would dip slices of Drehers' scrapple in flour and pan fry them for breakfast; and every birthday and Christmas our veal cutlets were bought fresh here. The refrigerated deli counter still contains a tempting display of sausages, cold cuts, and a variety of beef, chicken and pork cuts. Try their homemade Linguica, a Portuguese sausage that's lean and spicy, with a taste all its own.