A South Carolina chef has created a unique meat-sharing program that combines both quality and value — and oh, by the way? He’ll also be happy to sell you a $50 sub sandwich.
Here’s a the lead of a most interesting story, one that appeared this week in Charleston (South Carolina) City Paper.
“I’m guilty. I never thought it would come to this, but I’ve cheated on my beloved porchetta. It took everything in me to avoid the unthinkable, but temptation kicked in.
“I will never forget when I first laid eyes on Artisan Meat Share’s breakfast sandwich. She was poised and confident with an appealing glow. That bun revealed a few sprigs of watercress, egg, and an ample amount of gooey American cheese. She wasn’t shy at all, rather bold and seductive, begging me to make the first move. I put my hands around her and pulled her close. I could hear myself breathing, my heart was racing, and I took that first bite.
“I have no regrets. It was a lustful moment full of savory love, attributed to the splendid house-made sausage and perfectly fried egg.”
That’s not prose, that’s pure poetry.
The Artisan Meat Share doesn’t sell chocolate desserts — only what are described as “endless amounts of cured, cooked, fresh, and smoked meats” — lardo, lonza, mortadello, pâté, bratwurst, linguiça, braunschweiger and culatello, which is cured ham that’s stuffed in a hog bladder and aged for up to two years.
As writer and restaurant critic Eric Doksa described it, “Each variety of meat peers through the windows of a refrigerated case, begging patrons to come play.”
From the online photos, the restaurant décor is plain, the format quite comfortable, with a kitchen and bar on one side of the dining room and a couple booths on the other side. Like the classic big-city deli, there are no servers; it’s take a number and step up to the counter.
Here’s the aspect of the restaurant’s game plan I really like: Not only can patrons enjoy the specialties in the restaurant, they can also purchase take-home orders or pick up sausages, pâtés and meat platters to go.
Along with the cheese grits with sausage gravy, the menu features a wealth of Southern specialties: barbecue baked peanuts (boiled peanuts with roasted bacon, garlic, onion and sugar), crowder peas, pea and peanut salad and fried chicken topped with roasted peanuts.
I don’t know if that last item qualifies as a Southern dish — it is made with peanuts b— but it sure sounds tasty.
As all high-end restaurants must do, of course, the Artisan Meat Share includes the usual roster of avant garde choices alongside its sandwiches, including Thai slaw with kimchi mayo, fresh-poached tuna cured with sugar, curing salts, citrus and spices and roast beef with arugula, horseradish-Dijon and pickled onions.
A rare breed
But back to the meat-sharing concept. Through a partnership with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and a South Carolina producer named farmer Gra Moore, AMS Executive Chef Craig Deihl became the first chef in more than a century to butcher and process the rare American Guinea Hog breed.
The success he had with the various cured meats from that and other heritage breeds prompted Deihl in 2009 to develop a CSA (community supported agriculture) concept for specialty meat products, which he named Artisan Meat Share. The participants pre-pay (at competitive prices) for 90-some varieties of high-quality charcuterie, and local farmers earn a premium for marketing specialty breed hogs that typically do not produce the same yield as commercial breeds.
Five years into the program, Deihl and Cook opened the Artisan Meat Share restaurant this year to offer diners the same products that meat-share buyers had been enjoying.
According to both critics and customers alike — judging from the social media comments—the restaurant has been a big success.
Oh, and there’s one more novelty: the Artisan Meat Share’s $50 sub sandwich.
The 16-inch Big Italian sub is, as stated on the menu, “stacked high with meats on ciabatta bread. Enough for eight people. 72 hours notice required.”
But Bob Cook, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, said that the $50 price tag is well worth it.
“It’s actually bigger [than 16 inches],” he told the City Paper. “The menu says 16 inches, but it’s more like 20 or 24 inches. We put a minimum on the menu so that we could under-promise and over-deliver.”
The Big Italian is laid out on crusty ciabatta bread baked to order, and piled high with lots of salami, finocchiona, olive loaf and other deli meats.
Heck, for fifty bucks, I’d expect a find a couple strip steaks inside.
But the restaurant is apparently using the Big Italian as a “profit leader,” that is, a gimmick to get people to try some of the other items on the menu.
I say that because, according to the review, AMS has yet to take an order for its 50-dollar sub.
But for those who might be tempted, remember: order 72 hours in advance. □
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.