If we can agree that the best food is as close to the farm as it can get, and the best beer is where it's been brewed, and the way to get bread is to bother to go to the bakery, then I think we can all get on board with this: The best sandwich comes from buying it off the guy who butchered and made the meat.
And if this sounds like some sort of flight of fancy, or if it seems in any way pretentious to you, well then that goes to show you how wrong-headed we've been and for how long. Meat is too precious and a sandwich too noble a thing to keep treating either one like a throwaway. And St. Paul Meat Shop has arrived to set us right.
St. Paul Cheese shop is of course sister to France 44, and now St. Paul Meat Shop is sister to them both, a salami's toss from the cheese shop on Grand Avenue. Though we live in the middle of farm country, and we're all aware of the merits of all-natural meat raised humanely, we only have one other free-standing whole animal sustainable butcher shop, the excellent Clancey's in Linden Hills. They, along with St. Paul Cheese Shop, have long enjoyed "best sandwich" accolades thanks to their acute attention to detail, but they've both got some real competition now.
Like a cyclist easily, breezily speeding down the road no-handed, pastrami is a deceptive maneuver that looks easy. But it takes a lot to get this good. Beginning with premium product should be a given, but that doesn't mean a lot of guys do. SPMS's starts with cattle raised by Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin, Minnesota, where the cows are raised on pasture in fresh open air and have no need for hormones or antibiotics -- in turn imparting good Omega 3's into our own bodies when we feast upon it.
Good pastrami must have all of the following elements: appropriate lean to fat ratio; discernible, but not overpowering, smoke; and a good, resounding pepper edge. This one has them all, served with nothing more than righteous house-made grainy mustard and a simple whole grain bread that's happy to take sidecar status. Man, that's a sandwich.
A beef tongue Reuben with Russian dressing, slaw, and Raclette was nice, and in another context may have even been eye-opening, but next to the pastrami it was like a fresh-faced girl next door sipping cocktails with Angelina Jolie. Impossible to notice.
But lead butcher Benjamin Roberts says they "obsessed" over their sandwich list, currently only four selections long, and they'll only add when things are good and ready.
In addition to the sandwich program, there is a full case of everything meat, quite literally everything, because they are a whole-animal operation, so if it comes off the cow or the pig, lamb, or chicken, they've probably got it. Ribs, ground beef, a full line of sausages in all the proteins and all the flavors (precooked for grilling ease), steaks, andouille, breakfast sausage, whole birds, and on and on. Everything but the cluck.
It all comes direct from a handful of local family farms who they've paid homage to on the walls in portrait and you can read all about them in the text beneath, like you would a priceless work of art at the Louvre. Art you can eat!
And, nice, thoughtful folks that they are, the place is a one-stop-shop for every single thing anyone ever needed for the most gourmet barbecue ever: house-made barbecue sauce that they call "mop sauce," potato salad, baked beans, green pea slaw, all made in-house of course; compound butters, farmstead cheeses, McClure's pickles and relishes, tomato-bacon jam, sriracha, farm fresh eggs (because you gotta eat breakfast, too), handmade ranch, chimicurri, and sherry vinaigrette! I'm kinda breathless just thinking about it all because I don't have a yard or a grill and this place is inspiring me to start perusing the real estate listings.
And if you, like me, only go to cookouts but don't throw them, bring the product from St. Paul Meat Shop to your next one and see if you don't start fielding more invitations than you can shake a pig's tail at.
There are even gourmet sodas and a couple of fresh produce items for those pesky thirst and veggie needs. And Jose Andres potato chips! And Valrhona chocolate brownies. And the cutest, most eager, sprightly counter staff who engaged with me as if they had been awaiting my arrival all day long.
And now, they ought to be awaiting yours.
1674 Grand Ave., St. Paul 651-698-2536 stpaulmeatshop.com
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