aasalumiCharcuterie. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m pretty mad about cured and preserved meats, those delicious results of a time before refrigeration that linger on into this modern age because they’re just so incredibly delicious. We’re no strangers to the good stuff here in Little Rock, with restaurants like The Pantry and Hillcrest Artisan Meats turning out some fantastic house-made and imported food, but since we were in Seattle, there was but one destination for us: Salumi, Armando Batali’s cozy little sandwich shop located in Pioneer Square. It was a chilly November morning when we arrived at the door a half-hour before opening, and after ducking into a oddities shop next door to warm up for only a few minutes, we found ourselves already third in line when we returned. I spent some time on Twitter while we waited for the place to open and managed to get a retweet from Mario Batali, Armando’s extremely famous chef son.

aasalmeatOnce eleven o’clock hit, the doors opened and we headed down a narrow hall to the assembly line-style ordering. These folks knew their business, and kept everybody moving while being friendly (if a bit brusque). It’s not a big place, and there are a lot of people trying to eat there, so I’ve got to give props to the women behind the counter who turned out orders so efficiently. We started with a sampler tray, a collection of the different cured meats available at the shop. We had previously eaten the Salumi Salami at Pike Brewing, and we were once again pleased with its firm texture and light, oily flavor. The big hit on the plate was the Hot Sopressata, a spicy sausage that won us both over with a mild start and a fiery back end. The cheeses on the plate were excellent, with a soft mozzarella, smoked provolone, and a nice, sharp blue adding good flavor contrast and balance to the meat.

aaporchettaJess went for the Salumi Salami sandwich, so she really got her fill of the stuff that day. I ordered the Porchetta, a hot sandwich that had been recommended by several reviews (and also several people on Twitter). To all those people, I say “thank you.” The porchetta was tender, well-spiced, and incredibly juicy from all the melted fat infusing each bite. Stuffed into a hollowed-out roll, each bite of this sandwich was an almost overwhelming rush of flavor and texture unlike any sandwich I’ve ever had. Jess and I both are of the opinion that the sandwich might be mankind’s greatest invention, and this porchetta version served as added evidence to that theory.

Salumi was a fantastic experience, not just from the excellent food, but also from the excitement of the people around us. People were looking at this meal as an experience, something that Jess and I tend to do with most of the meals we eat. Was this famous house of meat better than our neighborhood sandwich palace, Hillcrest Artisan Meats? Not at all — if anything, the fact that H.A.M. matches Salumi bite for delicious bite makes me all the more thankful for the excellence we have just around the corner. So if you find yourself in Little Rock, head to Hillcrest — but if you’re reading this from Pioneer Square, it’s worth the wait to eat at Salumi.

Salumi on Urbanspoon

Review: Hillcrest Artisan Meats

I don’t think there’s anything I don’t love about Hillcrest Artisan Meats — a.k.a. H.A.M.  I love the selection of cured meats, from imported mortadella that fries up to a crisp, delicious brown to a house-made pork-lung pastrami that I tried just to be brave and wound up buying half a pound.  And if you’re in the mood for a quick, satisfying lunch, there aren’t many places in Hillcrest (or in Little Rock at all, for that matter) where you can get the sort of quality, service, and taste present at H.A.M. — served up with a little bit of attitude and a healthy dose of cheesy rock music on the radio.  We’ve eaten a few sandwiches there lately, and I think that they’re among the best sandwiches around.

The first sandwich I ever tried at H.A.M. was a tasty concoction of seared foie gras, raspberry preserves, and arugula on a crunchy baguette.  I found out later that it was H.A.M.’s Brandon Brown who had been responsible for the tasty foie dish we ate last year at Boulevard Bread Company, and I knew that this guy was on to something good.  As good as the foie was, the current love of my life at H.A.M. is the country pate sandwich seen to the right:  a coarse-ground, succulent pressed loaf of pork, lightly seasoned and perfectly complemented by a couple of slices of tomatoes, some cornichons, and a healthy dose of spicy mustard.  Regular readers of the blog will know that I’m a fiend for pate, and this is one of the best versions I’ve eaten.  If you’ve ever wanted to give the stuff a shot, this is where you should go.

For folks with a heartier appetite, you can’t go wrong with H.A.M.’s eponymous sandwich, a monster piled high with cold cut salame rosa, Fudge Family Farm ham, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, aioli, and Maille Dijon.  A sandwich made with any of those meats would be incredible; a sandwich made with all of them is an almost overwhelming experience.  It’s the sort of sandwich that might give Dagwood Bumstead a moment of pause before tucking into.  It’s also one of the most delicious things we’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.

Of course, Hillcrest Artisan Meats is a lot more than just a sandwich shop.  As I said at the top, I’m a rather huge fan of their imported mortadella, but they also have a wide selection of sausages, steaks, pork, chicken, and a small (but respectable) selection of cheeses — including cheese from Arkansas’ own Kent Walker.  The best part of the H.A.M. experience is that the guys behind the counter are proud of what they do, they know that some of the things they have are unfamiliar to the general public, and they aren’t hesitant to answer questions and hand out samples in order to sell you on their quality products.  They’ve also got one of the finest selection of foodie magazines to peruse and purchase, including Meat Paper and Lucky Peach.

Hillcrest Artisan Meats is located at 2807 Kavanaugh Boulevard, Suite B in Hillcrest, and they’re open from 10-6 daily.  Do yourself a favor and get yourself some meat.

Hillcrest Artisan Meats on Urbanspoon

Pâté de Campagne (Country Pâté)

When we first got our stand mixer, the meat grinding attachment was one of the first accessories I wanted to buy for it.  In addition to being able to grind my own ground beef mixtures and sausage, I really wanted to make a good country pate.  I’ve spoken about my love for well-made pate before, but I’ve never actually tried to make it myself.  There are hundreds of versions of this dish out there, so I read a few and came up with this recipe based on things I like to taste.  It was a lot of work to grind the meat, mix it up, then cook it, but when I finally got that first taste of pate on toasted sourdough with just a dollop of mustard and a bite of cornichon it was all well worth it.  This isn’t a dish that many people make around here, and it’s so rich that I don’t see myself making it very often – but when I want to treat myself, this is what I’m making.

Pâté de Campagne (Country Pâté)

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder
  • 1/2 pound pork belly.  In most stores around Arkansas, all you’re going to find is salt pork.  This can work just fine as long as you soak the pork overnight before using it, then blanch it for 10 minutes to remove excess salt.
  • 1/4-1/2 pound pork or beef liver.  Liver here is used more as a flavoring than as a main ingredient, so feel free to adjust how much you want to use based on taste.  The recipe works with no liver whatsoever, but I feel that it needs some for that essential pate taste.
  • 1/2 cup cognac
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed thyme
  • 1 teaspoon powdered allspice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 14 strips bacon

Preheat your oven to 350.  Grind your pork shoulder, pork belly, and liver and mix together in a large bowl.  Add the dry spices, mixing thoroughly.  Add the eggs, cream, and cognac; blend until mixed thoroughly.  Line a loaf pan with the bacon, with eight overlapping strips along the long ends of the pan and three pieces each on the ends, overlapping the edge of the pan with the bacon.  Pack the ground meat mixture into the bacon-lined pan, pushing down with your fingers or the back of a spoon so that the mixture is firmly packed.  Fold the bacon slices over, covering the pate.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place into a larger pan of hot water so that the water comes up about half-way on the loaf pan.  Place both pans into the oven and bake for about two hours and fifteen minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155.

Remove the pate from the oven and drain the fat that has accumulated.  Cover with foil, then weigh the pate down with a brick or some cans in another loaf pan.  Let rest in the refrigerator overnight, then serve chilled or at room temperature with good bread, Dijon mustard, and cornichons.  Enjoy!

Charcuterie at The Pantry

For a state that is enamored of all things pork related, you don’t see the word “charcuterie” appearing on many menus. Originally a way to cure and preserve meats, the art of charcuterie is practiced now mostly because cured meat is delicious.  A meal experience with classic charcuterie is not out of the question in Little Rock, though, because Tomas Bohm at The Pantry has a variety of prepared meats on his menu, and the man knows his business.  I saw “The Pantry Board” listed on the menu back when we first reviewed The Pantry, but it’s taken until now for me to get back and give it a try.  This sampler board of bratwurst, smoked pork, prosciutto, pork terrine, and cheese is true delight, and it’s clear that Chef Bohm takes a lot of care in the preparation of his meat dishes.

It’s hard to know where to begin in describing the items that make up this sampler.  Even though everything on this board is made from pork, the variety of textures and flavors is astounding.  The prosciutto was thinly sliced, and the unctuous texture was matched by an excellent light flavor that was just salty enough without being overpowering.  In contrast, the smoked pork shoulder had a deep, round flavor that worked in perfect contrast to the ham.  The bratwurst was juicy with a slightly spicy flavor that worked well with the Dijon mustard served to the side, and I loved the creamy chevre and tangy feta with olives as well.

For me, though, the star of the plate was Chef Bohm’s terrine, a wonderful dish of bacon-wrapped forcemeat layered with asparagus and almonds.  As far as I’m aware, The Pantry’s is the only menu in Little Rock that features a terrine, and I urge all of you to put aside your ideas about pate and give this dish a try.  In older times, such dishes were made from the trimmings and end pieces of the pig, but Chef Bohm uses only good-quality pork shoulder wrapped with bacon in his terrine, and the texture and taste of the dish is sumptuous – a definite guilty pleasure food, especially when eaten with the grilled French bread and cornichons provided.  After our meal, Chef Bohm stopped by our table and when I complimented the terrine he told us that he sometimes breads a slice and pan fries it, making a sandwich of it with cornichon relish.  I’d like to go on the record and say to the Chef: if you put that on your menu as an occasional special, I will eat it every time.

The Pantry is located at 11401 N. Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock.  They’ve got an excellent bar with happy hour specials between 2pm and 6pm.  If you’re a lover of all things pork, rest assured that Chef Bohm and crew are doing things right.  Enjoy!