New Orleans, LA – House-made sausages and other handmade items of the butcher's trade are now all the rage at high-profile restaurants. At some such places you might walk in to find glass-enclosed meat aging cases situated right there in the dining room, filled with sausages and salami set up to cure and on prominent display for all patrons to see. Elsewhere, menus now proudly list the term "made in house" as the first descriptor for fresh sausage links, terrines, pates and other charcuterie standards.
You can follow the trail of this trend at restaurants all across the country, and locally it's evident in places ranging from the ultra high-end restaurant Emeril's Delmonico to a new, decidedly casual eatery in Mid-City, called Crescent Pie & Sausage
It's a trend in synch with the larger resurgence of an artisanal approach in the restaurant kitchen, part of that back-to-basics aesthetic that reduces the number of steps from the farm to the plate.
This is all good news for restaurant patrons, but of course the dining room is only one venue to experience the product of old-fashioned butcher's pride. In and around New Orleans, we still have a profusion of traditional butcher shops where that handmade, rustic style has always been the default, and where recipes might date back generations.
These are pint-sized neighborhood shops, places where small batch production is a necessity and where quality control is paramount, since the business owners themselves are often the ones wearing the aprons and operating the meat grinders.
One example is Tag's Meat Market & Deli, which is located next to Chalmette High School in the St. Bernard Parish business district. Some people stop at this combination restaurant and market for a few pounds of Italian links to prepare at home, while others order them cooked on the griddle and crammed to overflowing into French bread at the attached sandwich shop.
It all started in 1948 when butcher Alphonse Taglialavore opened a stall in the French Market, which was then still the grocery hub for the French Quarter. Two generations later Mickey Michalik now runs the family business, and he produces the same sausage recipes.
The butcher's tradition goes back even further at Terranova's Supermarket, a little shop in business since 1925 on Esplanade Avenue in Faubourg St. John. Owner Benny Terranova grew up in the apartment just upstairs from the store. Each day, he and his son Anthony Jr. man a rudimentary but efficient sausage maker, a machine powered by water pressure, and together they twirl off each separate link by hand. Like at Tag's, the butcher's case here is filled with different sausage varieties, though the house specialty is the plump, herb-strung Italian link.
It's not uncommon for one customer to clean out the ready supply with a single order, which sends father and son back to the sausage maker to churn out a fresh, mid-day batch. But home cooks aren't the only ones buying up these links. Terranova's supplies a few restaurants with its product too. And in much the same way that other restaurants advertise products made in house, some of these Terranova's customers now print their butcher's name right there on the menu too.