2855 El Cajon Boulevard #1, North Park
"Those eggs are gorgeous."
I was standing in the middle of a very crowded soft-opening day at Heart & Trotter, North Park's new "whole animal butcher shop." The place promises all local, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, and on a cold shelf near the door a half-dozen eggs from a nearby farm drew a small circle of admirers.
The young foodies spoke for several minutes about the eggs, in fawning terms and completely without irony. Indeed, each of the eggs were slightly different in size, ranging in hue from cream to brown, sandy to a pale green, with slight spotting or pebbling accenting some of the shells. Gorgeous? I don't know if that's the word I'd use, but these sure looked pretty in comparison to the uniform whites and tans that make it into the supermarket. I might have bought some that day, but they sold out in front of me.
In fact, midway through their first day in business, Heart & Trotter's shelves were quickly running empty even as the small shop was running out of places to stand. You've got to hand it to millennials — they can take something as anachronistic as a neighborhood butcher shop and, with a little bit of artisan twist, turn it into something celebratory.
The eggs were not alone in the cooler, which also features some regional gourmet foodstuffs including Tender Greens chef Pete Balistreri's salumi, Euro-style Spring Hill butter, and Andrea's Truffles — all top quality stuff. A nearby shelf offered the wares of other local craft purveyors: La Jolla Salt Co., North Park Nuttery, Jerky's Gourmet and Farv's pickles.
But such pantry items don't draw the masses. We were here for the meat. Since the spread was running thin that first day, I returned a couple weeks later once the official grand opening party had passed and some of the initial excitement had died down. With room to breathe and browse, I tapped the young butchers for information about the beef, pork, and chicken in their counter.
Seeing as these guys do aim to squeeze every last edible bit from their whole animals, every imaginable cut may be found, as well as tubs of beef, pork and chicken stock stewed from what's leftover. Along with standards like ribeye, New York, and mignon you'll encounter lesser-knowns like bavette, aka "faux hanger steak," a close-by yet less expensive part of the cow that holds similar flavor to the chef's favorite. Actual hanger steak is there too, but being sustainable, everything's priced to remind you these are filets, loins, and tri-tips you won't find at the local supermarket. You don't accidentally buy meat from a place like Heart & Trotter, you come here seeking it out.
I veered to the cheaper end of the counter and perused the sausage. Every part of the animal right? During the long lead-up to the store opening, these guys spent a lot of time developing sausage recipes via trial and error. There's a sagey breakfast sausage, hot and mild Italian, bratwurst, and the day I dropped by, chaurice, a Creole sausage compared to uncured Spanish chorizo (though in this case with significantly less paprika).
I took each of the sausages home and cooked them simply, in a hot skillet. I honestly wasn't expecting much, but they were quite flavorful, tender and passably worth the $13.99 per pound cost. The mild Italian dialed back the fennel, which I appreciated, and that Chaurice was interesting enough to eat without mustard.
My favorite would probably be the bratwurst, which was finely minced and close to the traditional German style, though a little richer, with a smokiness coming through in the char. These guys are diligent about their meats, and it shows. For the best filets, expect to pay for it. Otherwise you can opt for a $10.99 jar of pork rillete — sort of a rustic paté or, as I thought of it, spreadable pulled pork.