930 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA 70130
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
There are lots of places to get great sandwiches in New Orleans, and not just po-boys. It's getting easier to find fat deli sandwiches, pressed sandwiches and gourmet creations between bread. Cochon Butcher is another entry in this category, and a decidedly upscale one at that. But what really makes this place special, what sets it apart from anything else in town, is the huge diversity of artisanal meats, charcuterie and other butcher shop items all made in house. A sandwich and a side dish here will make a good, though pricey meal, but Butcher really shines as a place to pick up handmade meat products to use at home.
The meats that the kitchen produces exude organic, handmade warmth, though the setting is more deliberately urbane, with lots of cool, sleek surfaces around the small room. There is a miniscule bar, a few high-top tables and a very narrow metal counter lining one wall. Eating here sometimes means cramming yourself into a tight space, and the hard-edged, very heavy, industrial furniture doesn't make things any more comfortable.
Butcher offers counter service only. Queue up, order your sandwich and wait for your name to be called. Much more important for overall service, though, is the fact that the people who make so much of Butcher's offerings are usually at work right there behind the deli case. If some of the more exotic Italian meats and French charcuterie items are unfamiliar to you, or if you want to know just how they make their boudin or tasso, someone there can usually share firsthand knowledge of the inventory.
In addition to sandwiches, Butcher prepares a varying array of small dishes it dubs "bar snacks." They resemble tapas, though they draw from French, Italian and Southern influences. The options change frequently, but some good recent choices included mini pizzas with orange marmalade, spinach and homemade bacon, garganelli pasta with sausage and peppers, foie gras with peach jam or marinated Brussels sprouts. If you visit with company, consider getting one of the meat plates, which is a good way to sample a range of the shop's creations.
Though small and rather expensive, the best sandwiches here shine for the same reason so much of the other food does: their fillings are made in house. Order "the Gambino" and you practically get an artisanal meat plate on bread, with house-made salami cotto, sopressata and coppa all wetted down by herbal vinaigrette. The muffuletta could use a burlier olive salad (and more of it) but there's no arguing with the stack of Italian meats layered inside its seeded shell. The pork belly sandwich is explosively rich, though the cold roast beef left me wanting a hot po-boy with gravy instead. As mentioned above, the real treasures at Butcher are the items you bring home. This is an ideal place to find something special for a holiday meal. From the Louisiana tradition, think boudin, tasso, head cheese and very thick, smoky andouille. From the canon of Italian salami, think lardo, mortadella, capicola and duck prosciutto. Think duck confit and pork rillette, country terrines and whole chickens stuffed with jambalaya. Think about what to bring home for dinner.
A small but thoughtful selection of wines lends credence to Butcher's claim to be a "sWine bar." Wines by the glass go well with the meat and cheese boards.
Butcher is pricey as sandwich shops go. Most of the sandwiches cost more than $10, and with the exception of the muffuletta their portions are quite modest. Add a "bar snack" side dish and a soft drink and your lunch tab will usually exceed $20. There aren't many bargains in the deli case either.
A creation of chefs Donald Link, Stephen Stryjewski and Warren Stephens, Butcher is like a gallery for the craft and flavor available through Old World technique and deep-running tradition. For sandwiches and small plates, it's another good option in the growing roster of such places in town. But as a purveyor of a fine meat products made in-house, it is fascinating and indispensable.