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January 06, 2009

Cochon's New Butchery and Other NOLA Hits

Cochon Salumi
Some of the offerings at NOLA's
upcoming Cochon Butcher.

by Mollie Chen

Having read and reread Calvin Trillin's tales of eating in New Orleans, and drooled over the descriptions of oyster loaves and muffulettas, it was only a matter of time before I made my own gluttonous pilgrimage to the Big Easy. Last week, I went down for a whirlwind trip with a friend who (thankfully) is just as food-obsessed as I am. Over the course of three days, we ate and drank our way through the city, sampling both haute Southern cuisine and down-and-dirty Creole favorites.

One of our most memorable meals was at chef Donald Link's rightly praised Cochon. Link doesn't pander to picky eaters--his menu starts with alligator and fried rabbit livers and proceeds through nearly every part of the pig, including cheeks, ears, and hock. And it's good. It's really, freaking good. (I know because we tried nearly everything on the menu.) Our favorites: a tidy oyster and meat pie; crisp balls of spicy boudin; and luscious eggplant and shrimp dressing. At the end of our epic lunch, the chef came by (and this being New Orleans, he had bourbon with us instead of coffee), and gave us the rundown on his newest project.

Link and his partners own the entire warehouse that Cochon is located in and they are in the process of turning that back space into Cochon Butcher, a self-proclaimed "store, swine bar, and eatery." When it opens later this month, there will be a 25-seat wine bar serving muffulettas and Cuban sandwiches made with homemade salumi plus bar food like pickled pork salad and stuffed sausage bread. There will also be a retail area selling every manner of charcuterie, top-grade meats, and baked goods. Upstairs, Link has turned the entire 5,000-square-foot space into a private dining area, repurposing the building's original beams for pocket doors and tables. And for those of us who won't be in NOLA anytime soon, the chef also has a cookbook coming out later this spring. To top it off, the Louisiana native told us about his favorite eating spots on the drive from New Orleans to Lake Charles:

* "The first weekend in May is the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival--great dancing and music. This area has the best crawfish. I can tear through five to ten pounds, no problem. I eat all the way to Lake Charles."

* Bubba Frey's, in Mowata: "They have a seven-piece Cajun band that's brilliant, and Bubba makes the best boudin."

* Café Des Amis: "Saturday mornings are something that everyone should experience. They have a zydeco band you'll get like 60 people dancing, bumping into your table and having a great time. Have the etoufée, bloody Mary, and the oreille de cochon, which is boudin that they dip in beignet dough and fry."

Further reading:
* Barwoman Misty Kalkofen's NOLA
* Catch of the Day: International noshables


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