It had been too long since I’d come around to visit my favorite neighborhood butcher shop, North Park’s Heart & Trotter. In addition to the whole animal cuts and house-made sausages found in their butcher cases, the small shop makes a pretty mean assortment of hot sandwiches, which might include a burger, cheesesteak, or smoked turkey. I showed up with a serious craving for the $13 hot pastrami.
2855 El Cajon Boulevard #1, North Park
Made with red cabbage slaw, Swiss cheese, and mustard on grilled sourdough from Liberty Station baker Con Pane, the makings of a decent sandwich are there, but no question it’s a showcase for the flavor wallop of the house pastrami.
The guys behind the counter tell me is starts with the tough navel cut of the brisket, which undergoes a nine-day process involving a lengthy brine, applewood and hickory smoke, and steam. The result is beautiful, tenderized hunk of marbled meat, with a peppery crust and ribbon of fat running through its center.
Historically, pastrami was developed to render a cheap cut of beef tender enough to eat, but particularly in the age of artisanal preparation I’ve come to value the stuff over a couple higher priced cuts of steak. I’ve got no problem chomping into a well rendered ribbon of fat, and after sampling a slice of Heart & Trotters I can attest it disintegrates in your mouth in a flavor rush of salt, smoke, and meaty goodness.
However, for this sandwich, they chop the pastrami fine, and heaped a pile of it grilled between slices of bread. Hence, the fat is well distributed through the chewier meat, leaving this sandwich with a satisfying gnash without encountering any of those awkward moments when you bite into a touch strand and pull a whole slice of beef out with a single bite. In short, I very much enjoyed it, and every customer that walked past while I enjoyed it on Heart & Trotters small patio, eyed the sandwich with envy.
However, the sandwich alone isn’t driving my current Heart & Trotter excitement. The big news here is that the butcher has a new toy.
It’s a custom-built Santa Maria grill, made with a pulley system so the grilling surface may be raised or lowered, depending how close you want it to the heat source. The obvious reason for the butcher shop to buy such a thing is to grill the specialty of Santa Maria BBQ, that ranch-spawned marinated beef tradition of California’s central coast: tri tip.
But plenty other cuts of meat may be cooked on such a grill, and when you’re operating a whole animal butcher shop, interesting options arise. So when the Heart & Trotter team wheeled their new grill into their parking lot on a sunny May weekend to break it in, they got a little creative. They decide to cook up a pig’s head, and served pork cabeza tacos and sandwiches to customers fortunate enough to stop by that day. And when they grilled New York strips, they did so along long cuts of bone, so they could lay the steaks over roasting marrow, to be spread over the meat upon serving.
So, if you need another reason to rue the excessive rain we’ve seen this spring, here it is: Heart & Trotter plans to make their grilling exercises a regular weekend thing this summer.