New Butchers Putting Down Stakes
hogshead cheese, kielbasa, smoked green onion sausage and pork chops,
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPHS
Meat lovers, rejoice. A growing number of specialty shops around town now cater to carnivores with a focus on artisanship, selection and customer service. Uptown on Baronne Street is the new Cleaver & Co., a whole-animal butcher shop that takes a holistic approach to its sourcing. The brainchild of Seth Hamstead, the shop strives to essentially connect farmers with consumers in a uniquely transparent way that’s informative as well as practical.
“The farmers’ strength is in raising things,” Hamstead says. “For the small guys to sell at farmers markets, it requires leaving their real jobs a few days of the week to sell pre-portioned stuff from coolers. That model just doesn’t complement their strengths.”
Originally from West Virginia, Hamstead came to Tulane University as an undergraduate. Later, he came up with the concept for Cleaver & Co. while pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Chicago. Then he asked himself, Why do this in Chicago? New Orleans was where he wanted to be. He returned to the Crescent City to pursue an MBA in business, where he met Simone Reggie, a Lafayette native, who became his business partner in Cleaver and Co.
The store buys the whole animal directly from the farmers, making sure to visit the farm beforehand to make sure they meet their standards for quality – pasture raised, no antibiotics and no hormones. Steps are taken to minimize stress to the animals before they are killed, which can affect the taste of the meat.
Signs on the walk-in cooler display the cuts and prices available. Beef, pork and chicken are sold, as well as fresh duck and lamb. Louisiana-raised bison will make an appearance in the spring. Visitors will immediately notice that the selection goes far beyond the usual filet and rib-eye. More esoteric choices include flatiron, shank, tongue and chuck-eye, and a large selection of offal such as kidney, liver and heart are sold as well.
Meat is cut to order to give the customer exactly what they want in terms of portion and thickness. The knowledgeable staff is fine-tuned to answer questions and offer suggestions. “Curiosity is a big part of the draw,” Hamstead says. “We get customers who come in and look at the list and say, ‘I recognize, like, three things on here, and I want to know more.’ And I’m like, sure, let’s talk about it as long as you want to; I’m here for you.”
According to Hamstead, some of the most flavorful cuts come from the shoulder, which is where the chuck-eye comes from. “It is actually the same muscle as the rib-eye,” he says. “It looks a little different but it has the same flavor profile.” Recommended, too, is the flatiron cut, akin to a skirt steak but with a more concentrated, beefy flavor. For guests initially seeking filet, Hamstead might suggest the shoulder tender. “It is this tiny little half-pound muscle that comes from the shoulder. It is equally tender but it actually has flavor.” A bonus: A lot of these more obscure cuts cost less than the more well-known rib-eye and filet.
Fans of boudin will be pleased to see fresh-made versions available here. Reach-in cases display offerings like hogshead cheese, freshly made stocks and homemade sausages – Italian, bratwurst and breakfast-style, to name a few.
For Mardi Gras, keep in mind their Uptown Baronne Street location is just a few blocks off the St. Charles Avenue Parade route, making them a convenient and interesting stop for Carnival grilling. “Regarding tailgating, I think there’s this big football match thing coming up in February …” Hamstead points out.
Tucked into a strip mall on Jefferson Highway near the Huey P. is Emmett’s Meats, a little gem of a shop owned by Emmett Dufresne. A New Orleans native who grew up next door to Sam Cortese (the Roman Candy Man), Dufresne is a veteran meat purveyor who spent 23 years working at Langenstein’s before setting out on his own. “I worked the meat and seafood counters, along with the kitchen,” Dufresne says. “Along the way I learned what customers want. We cater to that and make it about customer service here.”
The space evokes traditional butcher shops, with a checkered floor and retro-style cases for the prepared foods. Much of the meat comes from Halpern’s, a top-quality purveyor that’s also the source for a lot of big-name restaurants around New Orleans. The grass-fed beef is wet-aged, with a few select cuts available dry-aged as well. Along with the beef is a selection of homemade sausages including Italian and green onion, along with specialty ones like a barbecue bacon rib-eye sausage. A couple types of boudin – a traditional pork and a specialty crawfish etouffée version – are sold as well.
In the reach-in cases is a wide selection of stuffed chickens, deboned and ready to cook. They are some of the most popular items and feature a range of stuffings including artichoke, crabmeat, Andouille-cornbread and (Dufresne’s favorite) shrimp and wild rice. Turduckens are sold year-round, and among the selection of prepared foods is his popular smoked almond chicken salad.
Among the more novel offerings is a line of beef jerky, made from trimmed rump roast that’s sliced thin, cured overnight in a brown sugar and spice blend and then smoked. “Along with the thin sliced, we do a rib-eye jerky stick,” he says. Emmett’s Meats also offers wild game processing for hunters. “Hogs, venison, duck and quail – we do it all.”
Emmett’s also does party trays that are convenient for Mardi Gras parties and parades, and – ladies take note – they also offer guy-themed Valentine’s gift baskets featuring steaks and loaded baked potatoes.
Other specialty shops for meat around town include Rare Cuts on Magazine Street, which offers an on-site dining room and private chef for catered events, as well as a line of prepared foods. Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District sells perfectly portioned cuts of meat cryovaced, some pre-seasoned, ready to slap on the grill. They also sell a line of homemade rillettes, hogshead cheese and duck confit.