We may someday look back at City Market's meat counter as the Actor's Studio or Groundlings of the Portland food scene. Tasty and Sons? Toro Bravo? Laurelhurst Market? Simpatica Dining Hall and Catering? Ate-Oh-Ate? Biwa? All owned and operated by the gentlemen who ran and staffed City Market's former butchery, Viande Meats and Sausage.
Three years ago, Paula Markus and Eric Finley took over the space for their own butcher counter, Chop. Now it seems that, like the Viande fellas before them, their ambitions are growing bigger than slinging meat at the market (which, if you've ever graced their counter, you know is itself hardly unambitious).
When the duo started to feel the itch to expand, they briefly talked about opening up a dedicated sandwich shop, but they felt that the market for high-end sandwiches was already a little bit crowded. Eventually, maybe inevitably, they decided to double-down on their love of meat and branch out into curing and fermenting their own salami. Markus and Finley recently opened up a stand-alone location in the HUB building on N Williams, right behind Tasty and Sons, and as of this week, the many, many T's are crossed and I's dotted for commercial certification. Production began on Monday, so soon Chop will begin distributing small batches of artisan salami around the region—saucisson sec and finocchiona among other varieties. The plan is to produce more American-style salamis, less European influence, less tang.
The new digs may not seem like an ideal storefront—because they aren't. There's no direct entrance from the street, and no room for seating. But in order to expand into the curing/fermenting world, the pair needed a space completely devoted to the craft—there's no smoking of meats, no butchering, no sausage-making allowed on the premises. On Williams, they were able to dedicate an entire back room to salami production. Still, out front, they've made the most of their small space.
A giant Chop-branded cutting board hangs over the meat counter, which displays a selection of charcuterie and accoutrements. Highlights so far have been the bourbon chicken liver mousse, the farmhouse pâté, and some excellent thick slices of glazed bacon. To the left, under slabs of ham and roast beef sitting in a pool of its own juices, is a small selection of sausages. The chorizo is great, but if they have it in stock, don't pass on the chicken and fig variety. Markus and Finley are pickling their own vegetables, marinating olives, and whipping up an excellent potato salad to accompany whatever else catches your eye.
While they didn't end up going all the way into Bunk or Meat Cheese Bread territory for the expansion, perhaps most welcome to the neighbors is Chop's new sandwich menu. At $4.50 for a generous half and $8.00 for a gluttonous whole, lunch options on that stretch of Williams have been turned up a notch.
The best I've had so far is the Cid. Two thick slices of Grand Central campagnolo bread are piled with herb-roasted leg of lamb, sliced thin and topped with arugula, roasted red pepper, and a ridiculously rich aioli. The Fez stands out not just for that aforementioned rare roast beef, but also for the house-pickled onions. This one's served on a baguette and also topped with arugula and aioli, but the harissa (a Tunisian hot chili sauce) gives it an extra kick.
If you're not looking for a pile of deli meats, you might try the Frog—a farmhouse pâté (the chopped pistachios are a nice touch), Dijon, pickled onions, and red leaf lettuce, all packed onto a baguette. Or you're free to create your sandwich with just about anything in the case.
Between Olympic Provisions, Laurelhurst Market, and now Chop (not to mention Tails and Trotters' forthcoming brick- and-mortar), Portland's meat-lovers should begin feeling a little bit spoiled. It's not surprising, considering the quality of work that's coming out of these shops, that more and more young food aficionados are handing in résumés. Maybe most encouraging, however, is that all those résumés are no longer coming from young men.
I asked Markus if the butchery world was something of a boys club. She said it was, but that she's getting more and more interest from young women looking to get into the field (she also noted that now, unlike the kitchens she came up in, there's less ass slapping). LA and San Francisco each have their own high-profile female butchers, and here in Portland, along with Markus, we have Camas Davis running the Portland Meat Collective—a CSA model of meat distribution and a full-on butchery school.
It'll be interesting to see what happens next. There's talk of a new farmers market presence, and as their goods begin circulating wider than the City Market meat counter, I imagine Chop, like Laurelhurst or Toro Bravo before, will be another household name.