Suspended above the deli counter of Cochon Butcher runs a long meat locker filled with pink plump sausage links dangling happily in temperature controlled, humidified bliss. On the walls, homage to the divine swine. In the deli case, rows of house-made sausages and salumi, butcher specials like andouille sausage, smoky spicy tasso ham, kurobuta bacon, boudin-stuffed quail, duck confit, and various cuts of beef, lamb, and of course, piggy piggy.
This was going to be a great lunch.
Chef Donald Link, of NOLA’s famous French-Southern bistro Herbsaint and the acclaimed Cajun-Southern restaurant Cochon, opened Butcher in January 2009 with partner chefs Stephen Stryjewski and Warren Stephens. The casual 25-seat combo café/meat market is right next to Cochon, and together, they have made the Warehouse District quite the dining destination.
All the sandwiches are made with house-cured meats – it reminded me of the Fatted Calf, but with a distinct New Orleans style with heavenly freshly baked bread (light and white), bold spices, and rich flavors.
To start, we sampled the Hot Boudin – a Cajun classic. Rice is mixed in with the pork before it is all stuffed into the casing (back in the day, this was the poor man’s sausage and adding the rice filler was a way to stretch the meat). The hearty boudin is served with sweet-tart crunchy pickles and spicy whole-grain mustard, both great for cutting the richness of the dish.
Another NOLA classic, we had to try the Cochon Muffaletta (pronounced muff-a-lotta). There are a few hallmarks of a great Muffaletta. Soft, pillowy bread, round as an oversized whoopee cushion, and sprinkled with sesame seeds; deli meats piled high; and olive salad. Cochon’s version hits the spot with quality house-made meats, provolone, pickled peppers, and a finely minced olive salad, whose olive oil-red wine vinegar dressing has soaked nicely into the bread.
The Duck Pastrami Slider sure didn’t look like any slider I’ve seen before…and the duck didn’t taste too much like duck, but what’s in a name? This was a tasty pastrami sandwich cut into cute little triangles. I do wish the duck was a bit duckier, but no matter, the creamy gruyere cheese sauce and butter-grilled white Pullman bread made up for it.
I’m a sucker for pork belly, so I just couldn’t resist trying this. Shockingly, it was my least favorite sandwich. Maybe I’m just spoiled with all the excellent pork belly I’ve found in SF? The Pork Belly on White fell a bit flat for me. No crispy bits. Perhaps not enough salt? The simplicity of the sliced white bread I could appreciate (like an amped up tea sandwich), and the mint, pickled cucumber, and chili-lime aioli were bright accompaniments, but the star of the show fell short. Those homemade kettle chips though. I could eat them forever. Not a trace of grease and a crunch you can hear round the world.
Now, my favorite of the bunch, the BBQ Pork sandwich, lit up the room like a shower of Mardi Gras beads. A generous heap of smoky Carolina-style Pulled BBQ Pork, topped with a generous heap of fresh Cole Slaw (that is thankfully, not drowning in mayo for once), all piled on top of that airy, soft-crumb bread I’ve fallen in love with here in the Big Easy. The most remarkable thing about this BBQ pork sandwich is that it is served without a drop of BBQ sauce. Instead, the meat is dressed in a vinegar sauce that gives it a mouth-watering tang. Pardon my French, but this is one tasty, juicy mofo. Also of note, the Potato Salad earns its keep here. Creamy and chunky, with lots of whole-grain mustard cutting it so it doesn’t feel too heavy. Ooh child, this order is a whole lotta lovin’ on a plate.
Bacon Pralines officially tipped this meal from decadent to obscene. Instead of studding the buttery brown sugar and cream praline with the traditional pecans, Butcher’s heart attack version uses chewy bits of thick slab bacon. The homemade batches of these PRAH-leens (as Zachary, my Southern gentleman of a host, kindly pointed out, I’ve been saying it all wrong my whole life) routinely sell out. We were lucky to get our paws on some, still warm from the oven. I expected them to be more brittle, like toffee, but the consistency of real southern pralines is soft, like fudge. If you’re the type who loves dipping your bacon in maple syrup, this is your kind of candy.
It was refreshing to see a different regional take on artisanal homemade charcuterie. Cochon Butcher has a special thing going, with a style and personality all its own.
930 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA 70130
This post was originally published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites on January 5, 2011.