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: Boulevard Bread Company

Jess and I were driving around Little Rock the other day trying to find a good place for lunch.  For most people, this is like a pretty mundane activity: pick a kind of food you like and figure out the best place that serves it within a set budget. Unfortunately, Jess and I both can be a bit picky and indecisive when it comes to figuring out just what exactly it is we want to eat.  We knew we wanted something light, and since it was a lovely day, we really wanted to eat outside.  We were near the Heights by this time and so decided to swing by Boulevard Bread Company for a sandwich; it was an excellent choice.  Boulevard’s fresh-baked bread and tasty ingredients make me wonder why anybody would ever waste time at one of the chain sandwich places.

Jess’ sandwich order was the PLT, a spin on the classic bacon-lettuce-tomato combo made with thinly sliced, crisp-fried pancetta, a cured and rolled pork belly bacon that we both just love.  The bread was just the way we like it – a good, crusty exterior with a soft, chewy middle; and unlike some places that claim to bake their bread fresh daily, Boulevard’s bread does more than act as an edible holder for the meat and toppings – it actually has flavor.  In addition to the pancetta, the sandwich was piled with rich, ripe tomatoes and crisp green lettuce.  I had a bite or three and I can say that the PLT is one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

Another one of those “best sandwiches” has to be my own Boulevard selection, the porchetta, a sandwich made with homemade slow-roasted Italian-style pork, tomato, lettuce, and a pungent (but excellent) aioli.  There’s something about a well-made aioli coupled with ripe tomatoes that makes a perfect flavor combination, and when added to the tender pork and served on a chewy ciabatta roll it really becomes a thing of beauty.  The ciabatta bread here was just slightly oily (in a good way) and had a good flavorful tang to it.  I had a cafe au lait with my sandwich, and I have to say that they pour a pretty good cup of coffee, too.  In addition to the sandwiches, Boulevard has soups and salads available as well as a great number of breads and pastries (of course.)  Cured meats and other delicacies are available on shelves and in a small cooler as you walk in, and it was tough leaving without dropping some serious money on all the good things they had on display.

The location we ate at is at 1920 N. Grant St. in the Heights, but they also have locations in the River Market, at UAMS, and on Main Street.  There aren’t many places to get a quick sandwich that tastes this good, and they also have daily dinner specials, so give them a try – and Enjoy!

Boulevard Bread Co on Urbanspoon