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Cochon Butcher: Pigging Out 

Old-World craftsmanship fuels an upscale destination for meats.

click to enlarge Cochon Butcher serves Cuban sandwiches and beverages from the - "sWine" bar. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Working under one roof, staff at the restaurant Cochon and the charcuterie/sandwich shop Cochon Butcher prepare different versions of such south Louisiana staples as andouille and boudin. A hallway connects the two businesses, which share a mailing address, and chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski are co-owners of each, along with chef Warren Stephens who is the third partner of Butcher. It would seem natural for Butcher to serve as commissary and provider for specialty meats used on Cochon's menu, particularly the andouille and boudin. But Stephens explains that he and his partners want both kitchen staffs to get training and experience the pride of preparing their own signature products.

  The decision elevates craftsmanship over business efficiencies, and it speaks volumes about the addition Butcher has made to the local food scene since it opened in January.

  As a retail-oriented producer of specialty meats — drawing from Cajun, French and Italian traditions — the Warehouse District shop has no local peer. The fresh and cured sausages, salamis, terrines and rillettes that pack Butcher's mesmerizing deli cases are not imported from Italy or Opelousas. Butcher's salumiere (Italian for pork butcher) Kris Doll handcrafts many of the products himself. Apart from the bread for sandwiches, the booze stocked in the small bar and a few other comestibles, everything served at Butcher is made in house, from the tasso to the Creole mustard.

  This is truly a specialty place for meat, where sandwiches and charcuterie plates offer opportunities to try them on the spot. Those seeking value and a big feed on their lunch break are sure to be disappointed. By now, we're used to paying $10 or more for sandwiches in nice settings, but rarely are pricey sandwiches this small. The last time I saw sandwiches the size of the pastrami number here, they had the crusts cut off, and ladies were eating them with pinkies extended.

  Among the burliest on the sandwich list is a muffuletta stacked with gorgeously textured meats rippling with flavor, though the thin olive salad is indiscernible. It's good that the pork belly on white bread is small, however, since the dark, crusty, fatty meat packs a wallop of lusciousness just barely checked by the crisp contrast of razor-thin cucumber and fresh mint.

  One of the dainty but reliably delicious small plates — dubbed "bar food" here — will round out a meal. Some seem like fine-dining appetizers, such as a Caprese salad using burrata, the cream-stuffed mozzarella. Others feature homey sides with up-market spins (like silver dollar hoe cakes with intense foie gras butter and blueberries) or little inspirations from the deli case, including a duck pastrami slider.

  The shop's interior design of clean lines, dark surfaces and shiny tiles is sleek but uncomfortable. Table space is cramped, and the heavy, sharp-edged stools are so small that people who eat at Butcher too often may not be able to fit on them for long.

  There is a lot to recommend frequent visits, and the revolving meat-production schedule always seems to deliver something different. One afternoon it was a few linear yards of kielbasa, crusty smoked ribs and, set on the counter for the taking, broken samples of pralines cooked with nuggets of bacon — cured in house, naturally.

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