By Lance Sparks

An unexpected recipe for success in a tough business: Take two vigorous young people, let them do what they love, and have them do it very well; let them have lots of fun at their work, all while carefully watching their bottom line. Add in top-quality ingredients plus acute knowledge and imagination. Mix well but don’t whip. Allow time to rise and change. The outcome is good, flavorful, healthy food at Benedetti’s Meat Market & Deli.

James Benedetti, 40, opened his market in 2009 on Centennial Blvd. in Springfield, after 11 years of training in the meat trade with Mike Wooley at the venerable Long’s Meat Market. He soon expanded the space to include a bar and deli, serving lunch. The space is simple, with tables and booths to seat around 30 diners and nine more seats at the bar. In May 2016, Benedetti hired Mike Richardson to cook dinners. It has been a sound business decision and a benefit for both men; they communicate well, have a lot of laughs, and turn out exceptional food for their guests. Both say they’re having a lot of fun here.

Benedetti was born in in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the son of Cheryl and James Benedetti. Cheryl is now a retired RN and James Sr. is a finish carpenter. James Jr. attended local Catholic schools and then Rhode Island College. But he also landed a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant; soon, he was cooking, and the menu of his life was written. A winding road led to Eugene, but he still declares his regional loyalty by wearing his battered Red Sox baseball cap.

Chef Mike Richardson is an Oregonian, born in North Bend in 1983. His father, Bill, manages a garbage company; his mother, Becky, is a commercial baker at North Bend’s Ciccarelli’s. (“You can’t get a better slice of quiche anywhere,” Mike says.) As Richardson thinks about his childhood, he says, “I grew up an eater. My mom is the greatest culinary artist I’ve known.” He also notes that his father is “a great cook.” Richardson earned a degree in business administration at the University of Oregon (“I’m a proud alum”). He traveled extensively, especially in Italy (fostering an intense love of Italian cuisine and wines) and France.

Now, Mike says he’s “honing my skills” and is enormously excited about having “an open palate of colors” to paint on his plates. He has superb materials to work with, especially, of course, the meats. (“It’s a little bit like cheating,” he says.) For all his meats, James has contracted with one supplier, Cedar River Farms in northern California, because he knows they “treat the animals really well” and feed them strictly on grass and grains.

Then, both men frequently transform the meats before cooking. Mike’s version of pasta carbonara, for instance, begins with making fresh pasta daily (cut and cooked to order, really Chef Mike’s signature) and adding slow-smoked pork belly to the dish; the result rocks with flavors and is hugely popular with diners. The steaks are particularly outstanding; Mike’s ribeye cuts like butter and bursts with flavor. In fact, all Benedetti’s dishes, from appetizers to desserts, must fit the same profile—highest-quality ingredients, highly skillful preparation, toothsome flavors, all at moderate prices.

The wine list—small but growing—includes two whites, six reds (all Italian), and is carefully selected by Richardson to suit his own palate and to complement his food; almost all are accessible by the glass or bottle. A full bar is available, with six taps for local craft beers.

Benedetti’s staff members are all friendly and competent. “We have a strong squad,” James Benedetti says, and he’s right.

All of this reminds me of a childhood toast: Good golly, good wine, good meat, great food, let’s eat!

533 W Centennial Blvd., Springfield