The pit ham sandwich from Butcher that makes Mother's say uncle. (Andy Staples)
NEW ORLEANS -- It was New Year’s Eve 2009. I had just landed in NOLA, and I needed to find a place to eat. I checked Urbanspoon, but in a city as gastronomically dense as this one, a list of hotspots only complicates matters more.
So I decided to follow my nose.
I wandered around the Warehouse District reading menus in windows, but nothing struck me. Then I smelled something. The odors of roasting pork and toasting bread formed a cloud that grabbed me by the nostrils and yanked me into Cochon Butcher. The woman behind the counter recommended the pork belly sandwich, and then she mixed me an Old Fashioned. From that moment, I was hooked.
I’ve probably been back a dozen times since. When I want to take someone to lunch in New Orleans and look like an insider, I take that person to Butcher. Its nextdoor big brother, Cochon, gets more publicity, but Butcher -- also home to the late-night Swine Bar -- feels like a secret spot even though anyone with a working nose can find it.
You can wait in line at Mother's, but you're wasting your time. Butcher makes the best sandwiches in walking distance of the hotels you'll be staying at for whatever game/conference/trade show brings you to town. The Buckboard Bacon Melt is probably the finest sandwich to ever incorporate collard greens. I thought the pork belly sandwich (with mint, cucumber and chili-lime aioli) was my favorite until I walked into Butcher a few hours before Louisville annihilated Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The special that day was a pit smoked ham sandwich with white barbecue sauce, cheddar, pickled greens and fried sweet onions. My feelings about white barbecue sauce are complicated. My love for this creation was not. The only thing that kicked more ass than Cardinals coach Charlie Strong that night was that sandwich.
If Butcher only made perfectly stuffed sandwiches and an olive dressing that makes its Muffaletta one of the city's best, it would be enough. But what comes before, during and after the sandwiches makes Butcher sublime. The duck pastrami sliders or the gruyere-stuffed pretzel prime the pump for the main course. The pancetta mac and cheese provides a savory balance to the mint-tinged pork belly sandwich.
But no one should head back to the stadium/convention center with all that salt and fat on the tongue. To return to life with balanced taste buds, grab a peanut butter and jelly cookie on the way out. Peanut butter and jelly cookie? Yes. It's as delicious as you're imagining.
The pancetta mac and cheese. (Andy Staples)
The pork belly sandwich. (Andy Staples)
PB&J -- in cookie form. (Andy Staples)