Feb 18, 201012:00 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
The Butcher of Tchoupitoulas Street
The mushroom duxelles and lardo crostini from the bar food menu at Cochon Butcher is an excellent example of how the restaurant finds innovative ways to use the products it creates.
Photo courtesy of Robert Peyton
When Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski opened Cochon in a large building at 930 Tchoupitoulas St., they had already started curing their own meats and making sausage at Herbsaint, Link’s first restaurant. But they had bigger plans, and Cochon Butcher was the culmination. Part butcher shop, part sandwich counter, part bar, Cochon Butcher –– or just Butcher, as most people call it –– is greater than the sum of its parts.
Chef Warren Stephens is the executive chef at both Cochon Butcher and Calcasieu, the banquet facility that occupies the top floor of the building that houses Cochon and Butcher, and he’s well-suited to his role. He’s a native of Lumberton, N.C., and after graduating from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, he worked at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, S.C., under chef Bob Carter, cooking upscale Southern food.
Wanting to return to North Carolina, Stephens applied on a whim for a position in the kitchen of the restaurant at Fearrington House, a Relais & Châteaux property near Chapel Hill, N.C. When he was hired, the restaurant had been awarded five diamonds from AAA for chef Cory Mattson’s refined regional fare. Within a year, Stephens was made executive chef of the restaurant, and while he was there, it received five stars from the Mobil Travel Guide, as well.
Just before Katrina, Stephens, eager for a change of scenery and a new challenge, purchased a building on Magazine Street with the intent of opening a restaurant, but those plans changed after the storm. He was at a loss as to what to do for a few months, but when Donald Link contacted him in January 2006 with an offer to work at Herbsaint, he decided to stay in New Orleans. His original deal with Link was supposed to last for four to six months, but he and Link developed a good working relationship, and when the opportunity to run things at Butcher came up, Stephens took the job.
Stephens had some experience with cured meats from some time spent in Italy, where he made cinghiale, or cured wild boar. But it wasn’t until he started at Herbsaint, where he was one of the chefs in charge of charcuterie, that he really honed his craft. They started small at Herbsaint, curing the meats at first in a walk-in cooler and then in a large closet adjacent to the restaurant’s office that the chefs called “the meat cave.” When Butcher opened, their space expanded exponentially, and so did the varieties of salumi they were able to offer.
True to its name, Cochon Butcher is a great place to pick up some meat to cook at home. Excellent cuts of beef, pork, lamb and poultry are generally available, including some that are marinated or stuffed. In addition to the wide selection of sausages; pâtés; rillettes; and cured meats such as andouille, Kurobuta bacon, sopressata, guanciale and others you can see here, you can pick up things like foie gras-enriched butter, house-made pickles, mustards and hot sauces. You can even special order a whole hog, for God’s sake. (They will not, however, sell you a panda. I’ve asked. Something about “international law” and “you’re a sick bastard, Robert.” Personally, I think they’re saving the panda for themselves, but I can’t prove it.)
Cochon Butcher is also a restaurant, of course, and sandwiches get top billing. The sandwich menu changes frequently, but there are a few selections that are almost always available. The Cuban sandwich, for example, is one of the best you’ll ever eat. While the roast pork in a traditional Cuban can sometimes be dry, that’s never the case with the cochon de lait in Butcher’s version. Add to that the roasted poblano peppers and house-cured ham in the sandwich, and it’s hard to order anything else once you’ve tried it.
But you should because the muffuletta is another standout. Both the meats and the olive salad with pickled peppers on the sandwich are made on the premises, and it is an outstanding take on the New Orleans classic. It’s a rich, salty, fatty sandwich, and I mean that in the best possible way.
I’m not as fond of the pork belly with mint and cucumbers on white bread, which is odd, because I love all of those ingredients individually. I’m in the minority among my friends where that opinion is concerned, and I might just have to give it another shot one of these days.
That’s going to be tough because while the sandwiches are excellent, there’s also a bar food menu. Marinated brussels sprouts have been one of the choices on that side of the menu for a while now, and if you think you don’t like that member of the Brassicaceae family, you might want to visit Butcher with someone who does, just so you can taste one from his or her plate. The sprouts have a little tartness from vinegar, along with some pork fat to complement their inherent bitterness. I’m a fan of the ingredient, but I’m pretty sure my bias isn’t the reason I order them frequently. Or perhaps it is? Perhaps I’m secretly in the pay of the Belgians? On ne sais jamais, mes amis.
I had a mushroom duxelles and lardo crostini from the bar food menu on a recent visit that was a perfect example of how Butcher finds new ways to use the incredible products they create. It was a simple dish –– two pieces of toasted baguette topped with minced mushrooms and meat-rich lardo, but the combination was absolutely delicious. The spices with which the lardo was cured were front and center, and combined with the earthiness of the mushrooms and a hint of sweetness, it was one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth in a long time.
I also had the charcuterie plate, a selection of sausages, pork rillettes, pickles, olives, some crisp flatbread and a dollop of mustard. Ordinarily I’d only order that dish to share, and I was alone, but I am also not averse to packing up leftovers. Cured pork makes a good breakfast, people. I can attest.
You can find some recipes from Cochon Butcher at the restaurant’s blog). It isn’t updated all that frequently, but you probably weren’t aware it existed, so you shouldn’t complain too much.
Butcher’s address is the same as Cochon’s, 930 Tchoupitoulas St., but the entrance is actually around the corner from Cochon’s, on Andrew Higgins. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, but you can call them to find out what’s on the menu at 588-PORK (7675). The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.