As far as I am concerned, a proper pastrami sandwich (or the close cousin, the Quebec “smoked meat” sandwich)is the pinnacle of a good sandwich: moist, seasoned beef that’s been brined and smoked, the resulting meat being carved to order, with a few nice slabs being served up on some good rye bread with some mustard, and maybe some kraut. As you bite into each slice, you get a little bit of meat, a little bit of fat, and, most importantly, a little bit of the salty, spicy, and smoky crust. It’s a bit like going to get some really good smoked brisket at a good Texas BBQ joint. There’s just one problem: the vast majority of places serving up pastrami sandwiches just don’t do that: they usually just slap some sort of pre-made deli meat (like Boars Head) onto some rye bread, and call it good. That’s not a bad sandwich, but it’s missing entirely too much of what makes pastrami sandwiches great. There are some places out there that are that good, and, indeed, a few of them I’ve even written up here, like Guild Fine Meats or the famous Schwartz’s. Or the ones I haven’t, like the famous Katz’s in New York City (I haven’t written up Katz’s? What the Hell is wrong with me? I’ll have to fix that…). But, hidden away on P Street in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood is a nice little gem of a deli that is doing it’s part to offer a good and proper pastrami sandwich.
Over the last month, I’ve spent a week in and around South Bend, Indiana. While I hadn’t found a lot of great culinary destinations, I did find two places my first visit that were both good, Fiddler’s Hearth (fish wrapped in newspaper), and Bare Hands Brewery (a great brewpub). But I was still searching for some other great places to eat, and while I kept finding some places that were good, most of them weren’t really anything to write about. For example, Hacienda didn’t exactly excite me with their Tex-Mex menu, but the beer I had there, a Lucky Dog from Evil Czech Brewing, was quite good, so I decided to look up where else I could find it. Turns out that the folks that own Evil Czech also own a restaurant in Mishawaka, called Corndance Tavern, so I decided to give it a try (their web site looked interesting, and they had some pretty interesting beer specials). With my coworker Cal in tow, we decided to drive over to Mishawaka and check it out.
Coming back from my quick trip to Canada, my return itinerary also brought me back through Burlington, so I decided to check out another newcomer to the Burlington scene: Guild Fine Meats. Guild Fine Meats is the latest storefront operation from the folks that brought you Farm House Tap and Grill and El Cortijo. Back about a year ago, their opened their fine dining steakhouse, Guild and Company, on Williston Road in South Burlington. More importantly, they also took over the Winooski warehouse that was being run by SamosaMan (who seems to have disappeared from the Vermont dining scene), and turned that into their meat commissary, where they do their own butchering, aging, and other charcuterie supporting their several businesses. Well, earlier this summer they decided to open up a retail operation selling their meats, as well as sandwiches made from them.
After a very pleasant and successful visit to Burlington, it was time to head back down I-89 to New Hampshire, which gave us a good excuse to stop by and check out Prohibition Pig. Like my previous review of Church and Main, Prohibition Pig is a joint that rose of out the ashes of another well-regarded restaurant. In this case, Prohibition Pig replaced the well-loved Alchemist Brewpub, which after the damages of Hurricane Irene, decided to close the brewpub and focus on their nearby brewery/cannery (which produces the well-regarded Heady Topper). The Brewpub was sold, and thus Prohibition Pig was born. Prohibition Pig keeps much of the same focus on beer that The Alchemist did, instead bringing in beers primarily from nearby breweries… and doing a good job at it. Choices during our visit included beers from Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead, both top-notch VT brewers, and even some Peche Mortel from one of my favorite Quebec brewers, Dieu du Ciel. But the motto of Prohibition Pig is “Smoked Meat and Libations”, and they pair their excellent bar with a menu focusing on local meats, primarily with smoking and curing. The result is that the restaurant’s new incarnation still packs people in, and we even found the place fully busy during what I call the “lupper” period (the doldrums between lunch and supper service).
While the Death March may have made us a little weary of walking, it didn’t completely satisfy our hunger. And Kevin still had some places on his “Chicago Bucket List” to check out before moving to Syracuse. So the morning after the Death March, we celebrated a successful March with brunch at The Publican (and my college friend Brian joined us again). The Publican is located over in the West Loop, in the Fulton Market Meatpacking District (literally across the street from a meatpacking place). The basic idea of The Publican is a celebration of two concepts: beer and meat products…
The Chicago Death March proper started at 8am on May 5th, at the 18th Ave station on the El’s Pink Line. After a mere 30 minutes of walking (and one stop for pastries), we got to our first major food stop: Carnitas Don Pedro. The entire Pilsen neighborhood is filled with various Hispanic grocery stores and convenience stores, several of which had the pleasant smells of roasted pork coming out of them. But as we approached Carnitas Don Pedro, I could start smelling an intense roasted pork smell almost a block away. As we arrived at the fairly plain storefront of Don Pedro, it was clear, we’d arrived at the epicenter. Walking in the door, the first two things I noticed about Don Pedro is that the interior is cramped, and it’s warm. Right inside the door, it’s a fairly narrow aisle between two serving counters, one to the left with tacos and stews, and one to the right that’s purely for ordering the meat products. The latter of these is the really interesting one, since at any given moment the meat counter has a giant tray of chicharrónes, the wall behind it has an impressive array of chorizo hanging up, and the carving station in the front window a giant pile of carnitas. And when I mean giant, I mean giant, with probably 60-80 pounds of meat on it (see below)…
After returning to London (via an unanticipated extra night’s layover in Madrid, courtesy of Iberia Airlines), my brother and his wife decidd to celebrate our return to the UK by taking took us out to Roast. Nestled nicely above Borough Market in what used to be the portico of the Flower Market, it’s a really pleasant and open dining space, and a restaurant known for high quality roasted meats, including game meats (“warning, may contain shot”). Their motto is “Deliciously British,” and they pursue this with classical British cooking (think roasts, games, and classic British desserts) using the seasonal produce and locally-procured meats.
For the last several years, I’ve bee an active member of The Upper Valley Beer Society, which is primarily a homebrew club, although we also have visiting brewers, go on the occasional brewery/cidery tours, and host the occssional special event, such as last March’s St Patricks Corned Beef dinner in conjuction with Umpleby’s Bakery in Hanover. Back in April, Charles, the owner of Umpleby’s, distributed an essay about the history of the Beefsteak, a New York area traditional that is a lengthy food event featuring profound quantities of beef (and a few other meats), beer, and little else (tradition also mandates that one wear their “second best suit”). We found the tradition compelling, and given our easy access to amazing local beef and beer up here, decided to throw one of our own.
As I talked about in my previous post, Quebec is known for it’s culinary heritage, particularly that resulting from the French fur trading heritage, so there are a lot of rich, hearty dishes. Poutine, in particular, is a Quebecois favorite, consisting of fries, cheese curd (and it must be curd, poutine doesn’t work with shredded cheese), and gravy. But it’s almost impossible to do a web search on poutine in Montreal without getting a recommendation for Au Pied de Cochon. Hiding behind a most unassuming storefront on Rue Duluth a few blocks east of St Denis, chef Martin Picard has opened a modest restaurant that is, quite frankly, a shrine to two things: traditional Quebecois cuisine, and meat itself. Au Pied de Cochon (the name literally mean’s “pig’s foot”), the restaurant is basically dedicated to large slabs of freshly roasted meat, served up with impossibly rich sauces, and even the more-than-occasional slab of foie gras. And it’s become quite the foodie destination in Montreal (which even before Au Pied de Cochon had quite the reputation as a food tourism destination), meaning that every night it’s open, PdC is packed to the gills, and it took some groveling for us to get a 9pm reservation.
Quebec isn’t just another province in Canada: it has it’s own language (Quebecois French, which, as my French colleagues like to point out, resembles Continental French, but has a distinct vocabulary and accent), it’s own culture, and, particularly, it’s own cuisine. In particular, it’s rather hard to drive through Quebec without noticing all the businesses advertising poutine (I’ll get back to the topic of poutine in my next article), Montreal-style bagels, and Montreal-style Smoked Meat (aka “viande fumée”, or even, if being a string Quebecois French constructions, “boeuf mariné”). Which brings up the question of “What is Smoked Meat?” It’s really a specific style of prepare beef. Several references claim it’s basically “pastrami”, which is closer, but isn’t quite right, either. However, it shares the basic preparation style with pastrami: the meat is spiced, cured in a brine, “smoked” (which is really more of a roasting step than a proper smoking) and, finally, steamed it until the connecting tissues within the meat break down into gelatin. Where it differs from pastrami is in the spicing and smoke, the result being something approximately halfway between corned beef and pastrami, leaving a bit more of the natural beef flavor. The best description I’ve heard is “the flavor of pastrami but the mouthfeel of corned beef”. If you like a good pastrami, you’ll like smoked meat, although it’ll be a matter of taste which one you really prefer. As far as getting smoked meat, Montreal is full of delis that specialize in it. And one of the classic places to get it Schwartz’s Deli…