The Meat Shop Reuben // Now With Beef Tongue!

reuben_email Before we opened the St. Paul Meat Shop, a group of us went on a reuben sandwich tour around the Twin Cities. It was a great bit of staff bonding and an opportunity to assess the reuben landscape. Unlike the pastrami and the chacarero, I have no emotional tie to the reuben. It’s a classic, it’s delicious, but it’s one of those sandwiches that can turn into a greasy mess of muddled flavors very easily. This was going to be a sandwich that we turned on its head a little bit.

reuben_collage

We’re a whole-animal butcher shop, so of course, we use every little bit of the animals we source. We wanted at least one of our sandwiches to really reinforce that message, and that sandwich turned out to be the reuben! Beef tongue is a magical cut and it seemed perfect for this sandwich because, once pickled, it is incredibly similar to corned beef. In fact, we think it’s richer and more tender than most corned beef, without all of the extra fat that comes along with brisket. Beef tongue adverse? Don’t be scared, this sandwich will help you conquer your fears!

The other big change we made to the classic reuben was serving it at room temperature. Is a reuben really a reuben if it's not served hot? You can decide that for yourself, but we love the creaminess of the unmelted raclette next to the crunch of the fermented cabbage. Textural bliss. And finally, our Russian dressing has just the right amount of sweetness to pull off the tricky balancing act of salt, acidity, and savoriness. I hope you'll give it a shot!

Meet The Chacarero

chacarero My first job out of college was working in an office tower in downtown Boston. As a carefree 22-year-old with a salaried job, I had zero concern for packing a lunch. Lunch was eaten on the streets of the Boston financial district and, more often than not, at a Chilean sandwich counter called Chacarero.

The original Chacarero was a window in the side of the old Filenes at downtown crossing in Boston. By noon the line would be 20 people deep. You paid in one line and then moved to the next line where you’d wait again until it was your turn to customize your sandwich exactly the way you wanted. The protein options were chicken, beef, or vegetarian and then you went down the line with your sandwich picking your various toppings.

It’s the green beans that make the Chacarero iconic. Blanched green beans on a sandwich? Kinda odd. Then there’s muenster cheese, tomato, cilantro-avocado spread, salt, pepper, and a secret spicy sauce. A small sandwich is enough to make you sleep, a large one means you don’t need to eat dinner.

The Chacarero (which interestingly translates to “farmer”) we serve at the St. Paul Meat Shop begins with brined and roasted pork shoulder. We knew we wanted roast pork on a sandwich and the Chacarero seemed like the perfect place to put it. The green beans are exactly the same as the original Chacarero, but for cheese we went with Comté (c’mon, we run a cheese shop after all) to bring a little sweet nuttiness to the sandwich. Instead of avocado we have a bright chimichurri, which brings the cilantro without getting in the way of the Comte’s creaminess.

Every time I eat one of our Chacareros, the flavors are just reminiscent enough to make me instantly homesick for that little sandwich window back in Boston. We’ll never be as good as my memories, but for sure I feel we’re paying a respectable tribute to the sandwich-slinging folks on the east coast.

--Benjamin Roberts, Manager-In-Chief

In Praise of Pastrami

pastrami sandwich When we decided to open a butcher shop in St. Paul, I knew that we were going to have a pastrami sandwich on our menu. I also knew that this was going to be the most difficult sandwich to execute (cue dramatic music). Much has been written and said about the state of the humble pastrami sandwich here in Minnesota and there was no way we were going to head down that path.

I grew up on the East Coast and NY deli pastrami sandwiches were part of my upbringing. Sure, we weren’t going to be competing with Katz’s sandwich, but I wanted to offer something that would be evocative of the sandwiches of my youth. It took us over 6 months to get it right and we cut it so close to opening that I wasn’t sure that we would actually open the doors with our sandwich ready to go!

The first big decision we had to make was whether to use a wet brine versus dry rub. And here’s the thing: each brisket cures for a minimum of two weeks, which means each time you need to make an adjustment you have to wait a long time to see how your changes turned out. It’s a lot like navigating a giant cargo ship instead of driving a zippy little sports car. After a month and a half we knew that we wanted the dry cure—bigger, bolder flavors.

Once we’d settled on the cure it was on to the length of cure. Too short and the cure doesn’t penetrate the meat enough. Too long and you just have salted beef. Sixteen days ended up being the magical number. A side note: because we selected the dry rub, we have to flip our 100 pound batch of brisket everyday during those 16 days! I think Brisket Flipping is part of the CrossFit regimen, no?

Adding smoke turned out to be the easiest part of the recipe. Two hours luxuriating in the smoker is perfect for our pastrami. And sorry, we’re not going to tell you what kind of wood we use (that's a secret!). And of course, the last step is cooking. That time and methodology was also tricky to figure out and is another detail we're keeping under our hats for now.

Our pastrami sandwich is served very simply, on toasted rye bread that's custom-made to our specifications, with a little house-made brown mustard. These three simple ingredients mean we can't hide any mistakes. We'd love to hear your feedback! I know I'm biased, but if I could marry this sandwich, I think I would.

--Benjamin Roberts, Manager-In-Chief of both our Meat and Cheese Shops

On Managing a Meat Shop

nick_blog_star Here’s an interesting etymology: the word “manage” comes from the Italian “manèggiare,” or, “to put a horse through its paces” on the “manège,” a training area particularly for racing horses. What’s it been like managing a meat shop? I feel like I’ve had to learn the rules of horse racing, the regulations of horse training, the basics of horse physiology, and the philosophy of what it means to race horses, all while on horseback (though I’ve had lots of help). It’s been invigorating and fun, though I’d be lying if I told you my head wasn’t spinning. I think I like the way the horse training etymology works as a metaphor. Managing a meat shop, training a racing horse—mostly, what you are being asked to do is to take care of something that is important.

The role that I play as the general, day-to-day manager of the St. Paul Meat Shop is one of ensuring the soundness of its operations, and the delivery of the highest-possible quality of customer service. This latter item is something that I, personally, have cared about for a long time (of course, we are nothing—we are less than nothing—without being really, really on top of our day-to-day basic stuff!). I remember as a child growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, walking into Zingerman’s Delicatessen, being greeted by workers there who treated my family as if they already knew us, and then being given transcendentally delicious food to eat—the kind of food that, after the first bite, you just know is better than almost everything else you’ve ever eaten. The completeness of that experience is rare and special. I think we offer it at our cheese shops already: you can walk in, have somebody who is really nice in a basic human way offer you an artisanally-crafted, mind-blowingly tasty piece of cheese, and then be transported somewhere else by way of your taste buds.

The vision we have for the Meat Shop is very similar. We believe that you can raise animals for meat in an artisanal way—this goes beyond buzzwords like organic, local, sustainable, grass-fed, although these are all awesome principles and necessarily a part of what we do. The big idea is that there are some producers nearby who are really passionate about delicious meat, and have the know-how to make it happen. In theory, it’s not so different from affinage, or the art of aging or finishing a cheese. “Finishing” an animal on grass is an art, and “grass-fed,” on its own, simply isn't a guarantor of taste. We’ve found four farming partners who are doing great stuff, and we’re proud to be a market for them.

Returning to our horse racing metaphor, I’m only a trainer. The Meat Shop is the product of the passion of many people, starting with the farmers who raise their animals the way they believe is right, even in the face of a market that doesn’t always reward that conviction; continuing to our management and butchering team, whose collective belief in what food should taste like and what a retail experience should feel like is what animates our existence; and our amazing owner, who cares about good food, good wine, and about creating special opportunities for people to pursue these passions.

My part in this is to ensure we’re a reliable and friendly place to get awesome meat, but much of our shop’s functionality and personality is owed to our high-functioning and personable group of jockeys behind the counter, whom I would gladly buy meat from, but would also, were I in the neighborhood, perhaps just pop in to say hi to and maybe even consult for general advice. Managing a meat shop has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work so far—now that we’re off to the races I hope you’ll come by and say “what’s up” to us soon!

--Nick Mangigian, Manager of the St. Paul Meat Shop

Meet Our Butcher // Scott Filut

scott_blog_star Meet the St. Paul Meat Shop's lead butcher, Scott Filut! He's the passionate, grinning guy behind the good things you see in our meat case. Scott spends most of his time butchering at our kitchen in Minneapolis, but you can catch him now and then behind the counter on weekends.

Where are you from? Eden Prairie, MN

How did you become a butcher? I became a butcher when we opened a butcher shop! Haha.

In actuality, butchering is a skill used in every kitchen I have ever worked in. Most places bring in smaller pieces of meat that are trimmed and portioned for a dish, but a few places would receive whole animals that I was able to learn from. While most of my education has happened on-the-job, I've also done plenty of studying with different books and online butchering groups, especially over the last 6 months as we prepared to open the St. Paul Meat Shop.

What intrigues you most about butchering? I like butchering because it’s one of the first steps between the farm and the table. I get to work directly with small farmers who care as much about the final product as I do, if not more, and I'm able to pass along a great product to customers. Also, the art of butchering is a dying trade. I like being a part of keeping it alive.

What is the most challenging part of your job? The hardest part of my job is really understanding the structure of all the animals I work with. Every cut counts. If it's done in the wrong spot, we can't give customers what they want.

The best part? The best part of my job is passing knowledge along to others. Whether it's our staff or customers, I really enjoy helping others understand the technical side of my job, and how I do it differently than some other butchers. The taste testing isn’t bad either.

What's something we might not know about butchering? While butchering any animal, it's always my goal to not cut each piece of meat, but rather cut between the pieces and then go back to trim the meat up later. The structure of each animal is laid out for me, and it's my job to not mess up that structure.

Any book recommendations for meat lovers? The most comprehensive book I have found about butchering is The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat by Cole Ward. There is a PowerPoint that comes with the book which is very detailed. The way Ward breaks down meat isn't the way I do it, but it gives the reader a great idea of what to look for when approaching animals. There are many other great books by whole-animal butcher shops around the country, like The Meat Hook Meat Book by Tom Mylan or Whole Beast Butchery by Ryan Farr.

What's your favorite cut of meat to cook? My favorite cut of meat is a hanger steak, cooked to medium rare in a cast iron pan, seasoned only with salt and pepper. There is only one hanger steak per cow, but it’s delicious!

Favorite thing about the Twin Cities? My favorite spot in the Twin Cities is either Target Field or any golf course.

What's your spirit animal? My spirit animal is Natalonies (my dog)!

Any big summer plans? My summer plans include making big pieces of meat into small pieces of meat.

Diary of a Meat Shop // III

Meat Shop sandwich We’re opening up a third location–this time, a butcher shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul. Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. Look for our shop in June!

Of course, our new butcher shop will have sandwiches. Of course! It's one of our favorite things to champion at the Cheese Shops. But because the Meat Shop is just a 5-minute walk from our cheese shop on Grand Ave, we knew the Meat Shop sandwiches would have to be their own thing--a brand new army of lunchtime goodies.

I love a great sandwich, but I'm consistently frustrated by the choices here in the Twin Cities. I never seem to find exactly what I'm craving. So when we started messing around with the sandwich menu for the Meat Shop, my first inclination was towards the killer pastrami sandwich I've been dreaming of. It’s a bit of an obsession and really difficult to get right. But I figured a new butcher shop would be the perfect excuse to give it a shot!

Our team members are big fans of composed sandwiches, as opposed to the Subway-like choose-your-own-adventure style. On a composed sandwich, each ingredient is purposeful and doesn't compete with the rest of its friends in between the bread. We've been working for months now on a set of composed sandwiches--including that fabled pastrami--that will wow our Meat Shop patrons.

As of this blog post, we are still working on the pastrami. And if it isn’t exactly right by the time we open, then we’ll just have to open without it. But that's because recipe testing for every aspect of this new business has been exhaustive. Recipe testing is a funny thing because it's like working in a vacuum. We know what we think is delicious and we just have to hope that our customers will enjoy what we come up with. In the past, our team has obsessed over a detail at one of our shops for hours, only to realize that the idea wasn’t quite right in the first place. To combat this, I’ve eaten countless iterations of sandwiches, cookies, spice rubs, marinades, and more. Tough work, I know. And this testing doesn’t even include the 15 different NY Strips our team has consumed from every meat counter in town. But I'm hoping this attention to detail will equal a menu that satisfies some of the other latent sandwich cravings floating around the Twin Cities and keep our customers coming back for a sandwich they can count on.

Want a preview of the menu? See it here >>

--Benjamin Roberts, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

Diary of a Meat Shop // Part II

diary_part_2 We’re opening up a third location–this time, a butcher shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul. Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. 

A butcher shop had been on our radar for several years. Partly because we feel the Twin Cities are underserved by specialty meat providers, but mostly because we feel passionately that selling humanely-raised meat is a natural extension of what we already do. We ask lots questions before a cheese finds a home in our case, to make sure it's something we adore and can stand behind. This level of examination is the starting point for our butcher shop.

Our food landscape is crowded with buzzwords: “local”, “natural”, “artisan” are just a few of the descriptors thrown at food. It's hard to know what to do with these words. Which is why we hope that shopping at one of our cheese (and soon meat) shops is a conversation. We will tell you why we find something delicious or why a product exists in our shop, and then you can make the informed decision whether or not to enjoy it.

I know that I want to know where my food is coming from, so I hope that most of our customers wish the same. Our team has spent many hours researching Minnesota farms and farmers, and then tasting their goods to be sure that flavor also aligns with ethical practices. We truly hope that all of that investigation and diligence will result in delicious meat from people who are just as passionate as we are.

We'll be opening in June, featuring meats from these venerable local producers. Can't wait!:

Lamb Shoppe | Hutchinson, MN Yker Acres | Wrenshall, MN Kadejan | Glenwood, MN Hidden Stream Farm | Elgin, MN --Benjamin Roberts, Cheesemonger-In-Chief

Diary Of A Meat Shop // Part I

meat shop construction We're opening up a third location--this time, a butcher shop! Our Cheesemonger-In-Chief will be chronicling the adventure here on the blog. Stay tuned!

It’s been six years since France 44 last opened a new business. Our original cheese shop at 44th and France had been open a little more than a year when we decided to just go for it and open up a smaller sister store on Grand Avenue in St Paul. I couldn't have imagined it would be another six years before we embarked on a new venture.

We’ve been looking at real estate across the Twin Cities for the last several years, hoping for the perfect place. A couple of prospects were intriguing but didn’t come together in the end, so we kept on shuffling. But this winter, our search finally ended when a space opened up a couple of blocks away from our St Paul cheese shop. Mac-Groveland has been a wonderful, supportive neighborhood and we knew exactly what we would do at 1674 Grand Avenue—a butcher shop called The St Paul Meat Shop.

Our first challenge was to transform a former hair salon (with one helluva bright purple awning) into an empty box of a space. That meant removing a staircase which interrupted the retail space and then tearing the entire place down to the studs. Several months of demolition later, we were left with a clean slate. Call up the architect, draw up some plans, and start crunching some numbers! We've got work to do.

--Benjamin, Cheesemonger-In-Chief