Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cochon Butcher, New Orleans

After our night at the Sugar Bowl Motel, it would not be overstating it to say that we were in need of a miracle.  Luck would have it that New Orleans was just an hour's drive in the icy rain. 

New Orleans is a miracle- dispensing platefuls of numinous grub despite all odds.  I just finished the NOLA food critic Tom Fitzmorris’ Hungry Town, which charts and celebrates the re-opening of the city’s restaurants after Katrina.  Page after page Fitzmorris breathlessly asserts that N.O. cuisine was and is central to the city’s recovery and healing.  He describes his first New Orleans meal after the storm, a big dinner at Restaurant AugustEighty percent of the city had flooded, 100,000 homes were destroyed, over 1000 people lost their lives.  Just six weeks after this disaster, Restaurant August was packed with people hugging one another, eating their food, grateful to be alive.  While not every resident was as fortunate, Fitzmorris, who had evacuated during the storm, was assured that night that the city would spring back from the storm's mighty blow.       

Boy was it good for us to be back!  It was cold.  Raining.  Tiny icicles clung to palm leaves and stoplights.  We checked into St. Vincent's Guesthouse, bundled up and walked the familiar mile to Cochon Butcher.  The line was huge.  Tables filled with food, windows misted over.  

Cochon Butcher is a small deli situated behind Donald Link's slightly more upscale restaurant Cochon- where we had a transcendent plate of charcuterie a couple of years ago.  The Butcher caters to the dash-in, dash-out lunch crowd with killer sammies and spectacular sides.  You can also pick up a couple confited duck legs or a freshly butchered pork roast to take home and cook.

We got a bacon melt, a cuban sandwich and a plate of roasted brussels. 
As for beverages, ''Rik's Favorite'' was just what we needed.  Rik is the shop manager and the drink he likes is a shot of Buffalo Trace backed with a bottle of High Life.  The whiskey warmed us, the beer fortified our sleep-deprived frames and the mile high stack of tender house bacon and the melty pork blast of the pressed Cubano brought us back from the brink.  And those brussels, charred and tender and tangy and swathed in chile, were otherworldly.  I cannot remember ever having been saved by food in such a dramatic fashion- we received a full attitudinal adjustment.  We parked ourselves at a low table across from one of the meat cases and drooled over the sausages, boudin, and whole cured pork bellies.  

Noticing that we were drinking whiskey at noon on a weekday, a friendly fellow who was packing sausage into bags for distribution struck up a conversation.  He told us that the shop received two hogs twice a week.  The 200-300 pound animals are broken down by head butcher Leighann Smith.  He also told us that Link had opened a new seafood place not far away, and of this we took note.

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