If you are old enough you may remember the running Nixon gag in Esquire Magazine where they would caption his gleeful pictures “why is this man smiling?” I somehow remember it even though I was born during the Ford presidency. Wow, I am already digressing. Anyhoo, the man above, Michael Tuohy, is righteously smiling because he is thisclose to opening Block Butcher Bar in a gleaming space adjacent to Lowbrau. This space is like the Ferrari of charcuterie bars. Let’s take a tour…
Speaking of Ferraris, I was told by people who know about these things that this meat slicer is the Ferrari of meat slicers and that just looking at it can give a chef a boner (in a female chef that would be a lady-boner). A quick google told me that it runs around ten grand. Learn a little about the pedigree of the Berkel brand here. Fancy shmancy.
This is Tuohy breaking down the menu. The menu got me little moist (I know I am being SO GROSS) because it’s pretty much my dream menu. It was like Tuohy had said, “Becky, what type of place would you like to see in Sacramento?” My answer could have been “a good Jewish Deli with actual bagels instead of the bagel-like monstrosities we have here”, but right up there would be a charcuterie bar with local and European wines, cheese and charcuterie, delicious-sounding, creative salads, and where the chef is committed to pickle-y items as well. Boom! Wish granted.
Olympic Provisions in Portland is one of my favorite places and the menu is pretty close to that. So simple yet so hard to pull off.
And as a bonus it has a brown liquor (Scotch, bourbon, etc.) focused cocktail menu created by Lowbrau bar manager David Steinberg (more on him next week in part two of this piece). Oh, did I mention that someone has finally realized that the perfect accompaniment to salty snacks of this kind is sherry, both dry and sweet? I am pretty much freaking out guys. OMG AND LAMBRUSCO, fucking A.
The décor can be same-y around Sac in a way that’s irritating. Block both fits in with that and doesn’t. Yes with the reclaimed wood tables (which are lovely). But look, meathook lights. No succulents or antlers in sight (those are next door). One day the succulents in white pots and mason jars will look at kitschy as fern bars from the 70s. Official H8ter. I drank the H8terade. In the words of 3LW: haters gonna hate, callers gonna call, ballers gonna ball. Wise words indeed.
This is the glass cage where the sausage-makers will be working. Like a good man, a good sausage can be hard to find (a good man with a good sausage is harder still) so we’ll see, but the chef is saying all the right things: “the key to good sausage is the balance between fat, salt, seasoning and acid”. A lean sausage is a sad thing so I bet he can do it. They are going to be making brats, bocks, Andouille, chorizo, spicy fennel, Umbrian and Polish for a start.
Recent Baconfest trophy. He won best bacon – some would say the quintessence of the entire fest.
Lab coats! Science!
Chef set up a lovely board for us. The olives were very spicy and caraway seed-laden. He said the stuff on the left was either prosciutto or speck. I vote speck since procuitto can be annoyingly stringy (shockingly I am anti-prosciutto, especially in a sandwich. How annoying is it to pull a long strip of it out with one bite?). On the right was I don’t remember but it was good. We ate it with toasted slices of Acme Bread, which both Lowbrau and Block are now using with the exception of the pretzel rolls from Freeport Bakery, so just calm down you can still get those. Dollop of bourbon mustard. Tuohy is planning to do a lot with making condiments and creating pairings. Fun.
Because this isn’t a puff piece I will tread on dangerous territory and say the pickles were unbalanced. Pickled endive and romanesco. Wow, romanesco is really having a moment in Sac – it’s consistently on the Mother menu. Guess it’s in season. Anyway, there were golden raisins and perhaps allspice? cloves? (this is where I falter as a food writer as far as not being a supertaster type, I can admit it). Kind of hits you over the head with a hammer.
I’ll leave you with some more quotes and facts from Chef Tuohy, since he is more than articulate about his new place. I will stake my meager reputation on the bet that this place is going to be off the (meat) hook the first day of business.
-A temperature-controlled cabinet for hanging stuff is winging its way from Italy right now
-Cut and wrap cheese and charcuterie in the tiny retail space in front. No bigs.
-He’s been butchering for 15 years and last worked at Dean & Deluca in Napa
-He’s also retooling the Lowbrau menu a bit, but is going to keep the “beautiful, simple concept of beer and sausage”. He doesn’t want to “chef it up and eff it up. I want it to evolve without losing its identity.” One of the dishes he has introduced on that side is chicken schnitzel and it’s quite popular.
-I saw the prices on the menu and although he is still tinkering and doesn’t want to commit to anything right now I can tell you that they’re quite reasonable and well-within the sweet spot that Sac likes. Starters around 4-12 sandwiches around 6 to 12.
-He has two big Kraut Krocks and will be making lots of kraut.
-I think this I plenty so I will shut up now.
Block will open sometime the week of the 18th.