A pastrami sandwich made at butcher shop The Wise Ox
I remember the day, back in 2015, when the Heart & Trotter brought whole animal butchery to North Park. There was an aura of excitement around its revival of the neighborhood butcher shop. This summer, when I learned its founders, James Holtslag and Trey Nichols, had sold the business, I worried the community was losing something special.
2855 El Cajon Boulevard #1, San Diego
Turns out they’ve left the shop in great hands. First of all, they sold it to friend and chef Brad Wise, and his partners at Trust Restaurant Group. Wise tells me that an early concept for the Trust restaurant included housing the Heart & Trotter butcher shop inside the restaurant. While that didn’t materialize, Trust did turn to Wise's butcher friends for ingredients, including leftover bones to create stocks.
These days, the Trust group has grown to include several interlocking concepts, including Italian bake shop Cardellino, which supplies breads to its sister restaurants. Likewise, its newly acquired butcher shop can now fulfill the promise of supplying upscale meat and charcuterie for the group.
A rack of prime tomahawk ribeye aging 40 days in The Wise Ox cooler
After briefly closing the butcher shop in August, Trust reopened it with a new name, The Wise Ox. Not a ton has changed: there’s still a meat case filled with the likes of local pork and grass-fed beef, as well as house-made sausages. There’s still a smoker and Santa Maria grill outside, the shop still provides offal and other organs to the owners of (spoiled) dogs, and its counter still serves burgers and daily sandwiches, including roast beef, turkey, and a house pastrami.
A marbled wagyu ribeye in The Wise Ox meat case
What changes have been made are subtle: there are new sausage recipes at work, a different take on pastrami, Cardellino-made pastas, ice cream, and wine for sale. There's a dry cooler that displays the likes of prime tomahawk ribeye en route to 40 days of aging. Some of these steaks are served at Trust’s Mission Hill restaurant, Fort Oak. Others have been pre-ordered by discerning customers, including one gentleman who recently had the wherewithal to order three full racks, weeks ahead of what promises to be an incredible dinner party.
As for the high-end meats inside the fresh case, I spotted beautifully marbled wagyu ribeye. Regular, everyday carnivores can expect to find beef, pork, and poultry priced about 15 percent more expensive than grocery store, but which arguably tastes 85 percent better than the conventionally raised product stocked by most supermarkets. If you’re really a meat enthusiast, it may pay to order an Ox Box. For $125 (or $112 for a monthly subscription), you’ll receive roughly 220 dollars worth of quality meats, effectively paying under ten bucks a pound.
These are all fine developments, but perhaps most important in the shift from Heart & Trotter to Wise Ox is the arrival of its new head butcher, Ryan Sharpe. Turns out, Sharpe actually worked at Heart & Trotter in its early days, and kicked off its charcuterie program. He returns to the scene with yet more meat and charcuterie experience, courtesy of time spent highly regarded meat restaurants in Texas and Charleston, South Carolina.
That includes some enviable BBQ chops learned at Charelston’s Lewis Barbecue, purveyor of the best brisket made outside of Texas. Wise says future weekend events will highlight some of Sharpe’s BBQ skills. While I’ve enjoyed the shop’s new pastrami sandwich — made on fresh marble rye — plus a couple of tasty sausages from the case, you can bet I will hightail it back to The Wise Ox soon to report on Sharpe’s work with that smoker.