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February 24, 2012

Hunger Strike | Now that's what I call meat!

Publican Quality Meats, or PQM as it’s known by those in the know (OK, just me), is the kind of old-school butcher/specialty grocer/reluctant restaurant that you get after a night of intense lovemaking between a Polish meat market and an Italian deli. And to make it a true ménage à trois, a French bakery got in on some of the action. Fortunately, PQM manages to encompass hundreds and hundreds of years of European meat-making-magic (last meaty alliteration, I promise), without the hundreds and hundreds of years of European attitude. And who better than I to reap these benefits and eat these hot dog links? All it took was some sharpening of that meat slicer to get me ready for far more than just a bit of the old ultra-sausage. Or should I say über-sausage? Yes, I should, because the charcuterie plate at PQM puts many of the similar yet overpriced monstrosities in this city to shame.

On this fine winter’s eve, the meats came from far and wide across the carnivorous spectrum; a PMQ greatest hits compilation, Now That’s What I Call Meat! Volume 1. And the playlist was spot -on. There was oil -poached pork loin with some kind of cabbage slaw, tender and succulent like a pork chop with a Michelin pedigree, though the un-rendered fat trimmings were a bit unappetizing, to say the least. And razor-thin salami was as vibrantly red as it was piquant, without having any of that greasy sheen or mouthfeel. The prosciutto was fantastic, as most prosciutto is, empirically speaking (trust me, I have personally subjected this hypothesis to vigorous testing). And a headcheese-ish, pâté-esque assembly of fat morsels and porky goodness was like a thick mortadella sausage, not content to a fate of sandwich- filling and bologna comparisons. Perhaps the only misfire in the bunch was some kind of braised beef with a plum/peach mostarda; the beef had the texture of an unraveling ball of yarn, while the mostarda was so overwhelmingly sweet (and not mustard-y) that you would be best served eating it for dessert. Then again, if I didn’t so ravenously devour everything in sight and had planned out my meat progression slightly better, a higher balance of flavors could easily have been achieved. Nonetheless, with the addition of some rye bread, a scattering of cornichons and pickled peppers, and a nice smear of whole-grain mustard, the charcuterie selection attained a level of perfection rivaled only by a Whitman’s sampler box sans the dreaded coconut and cherry cordial poison pills.

But wait, there’s more! Turkey sandwiches, pork belly “gyros,” and muffuletta galore! PMQ stays true to its Italian delicatessen roots with a nice selection of high-concept sandwiches. Most prominently featured is the Albacore Tuna Muffuletta, sitting there on top of the counter in all its by-the-slice hubcap-sized glory. The butcher recommended the Train to Tuscany—a proponent of alliteration myself, how could I resist? The ensuing presentation might have been less of a sandwich and more one of those appetizer -or tapas-style deals that you nibble on before an entrée. But the creamy, gooey ricotta, crisp radicchio, salami, and an underlying balsamic sweetness, all atop some gorgeous focaccia, exclaimed “All aboard! Next stop, Flavor Town!”

My other selection was the Lamb Meatball Sandwich, which, while not as excitingly titled as the previous choice, more than made up for the lack of creativity with a firebombing of flavor. The delicate little lamb meatballs were gently caressed in a pillowy, buttery lobster roll and lovingly tucked in with a blanket of slaw, mint, and Shepherd’s cheese. This is the epitome of comfort food, delicious beyond any shadow of a doubt. If you don’t smile while chomping down on this sandwich, you’re probably one of those people that thought A Walk to Remember was a romantic comedy…you sick bastard. But I can’t lie: Sometimes it’s the simple touches, both in terms of ingredients and preparation, that make all the difference. In the case of the Train to Tuscany, the luscious ricotta makes you wish that cheese were more socially acceptable as a condiment, while the sweet lobster roll accompanying the lamb meatballs should become the gold standard of sandwich breads. Even the chips and pickle that come with both sandwiches defy their customary role as an afterthought – an inedible edible garnish. The chips are good and thick, like if those artisan kettle chips manned up and grew a pair, while the crisp pickle has a surprisingly spicy finish, almost like a palate cleanser. Together, they actually serve a purpose and demonstrate that care and attention went into ALL of the elements in your meal. Kudos to Chef Kahan.

So does PMQ take the place of your friendly neighborhood grocer? Sure—much in the same Kobe beef is a good candidate for making jerky. For the most part the prices are more than reasonable, and not every item for sale is venison or squab. In its current iteration PMQ certainly comes close to rivaling its “pig bro,” at least when it comes to the quality of product and abiding respect for the hog; though if you have yet to enjoy a meal at the latter, it’s still like comparing ham hocks to tenderloins. But may I suggest a modest proposal? Take one of those “mental health” days everyone talks about, put your dignity on the backburner, and shuttle back and forth between the two, enjoying the best of pork worlds.

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