Sky Full of Bacon

Happy Little Sausages at Old Town Social

There’s an early Disney cartoon, apropos with Easter right behind us, called Funny Little Bunnies, in which cartoon bunnies sing and dance while painting Easter eggs and making chocolates. Like so many of those early Disney cartoons, it’s kitsch, but of an order that’s beyond mockery; if you aren’t charmed on some level, you were never four. (Before you click, know that the song will stay with you for days.)  A number of these early Disney cartoons— with titles like Cookie Carnival— are about food dancing and singing its joy at being born to go in your mouth, which one can imagine was an especially delightful fantasy in the early years of the Depression.  (It’s also hard not to see Funny Little Bunnies as an allegory for the industrialized production of cartoons themselves, but set that aside.)

Anyway, as I was heading to the bathroom after a meal at Old Town Social, I was behind one of those twentysomethings who dresses like he’s still a toddler— T-shirt, shorts, ball cap, buzzcut, flipflops.  He was sort of the proportions of a little kid, just blown up.  And that just sort of confirmed for me that Old Town Social is a wonder like in a Disney cartoon— sausage!  Beer!  Pretty girls!  All appearing from big old-fashioned cartoonishly-colored machinery (well, not the girls), you could imagine Goofy turning the big crank on this one and salume just plopping itself neatly on your plate:

And then it comes to your table on the arm of a hot punk waitress and it’s full of salty meaty deliciousness and gets washed down with a hip, if not aggressively unusual, list of microbrews.  Love is in the air, and on the plate.  If you aren’t charmed on some level by Old Town Social, you were never twenty-four.

At this point I can imagine the restaurant objecting that that cartoonishly-colored slicer is a Berkel, which is to say a very serious European slicer (the last one I saw that close was at Herb [La Quercia] Eckhouse’s house), and they take their cured meats seriously.  Well, I took the food here seriously too, though I don’t know about the rest of their crowd— the gals at the table next to us hardly seemed to touch their flatbread, and “flatbreads” are pretty much a bullshit item to order anyway, especially in a place like this.  But basically I felt about Old Town Social the way others have felt about The Purple Pig— impressed that would could just be another bar hawking mozzarella sticks is doing serious charcuterie and well-thought-out, well-executed dishes.

My colleague, Dr. Morowitz, and I were there to try the charcuterie first and foremost, so we ordered a preset collection of five and asked our waitress to select five more.  In general, I’d say that the charcuterie doesn’t push the complexity of funkiness as far as some I’ve had in town— for instance, the toscano had a harsh lactic bite, which I liked, but it didn’t necessarily have three other things going on at the same time, depths of dark gnarled old world flavor, as some really outstanding salume I’ve had in town (eg, Avec) does.  But the pleasures of quality meat (the menu says it’s all heritage pork, grassfed beef, etc.) cured like this are considerable, and I’d happily try anything they make.  Particular standouts were the toscano and the sopressata (which claims to be spicy, though it wasn’t all that much), the chorizo (once you got past the smoked paprika, this was a really nice, multilayered sausage) and what they called pastrami, which didn’t particularly have a salty-pastrami taste but was instead a kind of delicate, lightly cured smoked brisket.  I’d love a sandwich of that.  I found mortadella and a grassfed beef pepperone kind of bland; lardo, bizarrely, was whipped into a spread, which to me made it less appetizing, a biology-class texture I didn’t especially want to eat, and I wasn’t wild at first about the chicken liver, too much oil and too fluffy, though I will say that I finished it off, using it for a little organ meat-palate cleanser after many of the other bites.

The rest of the menu is a mixed assortment, aiming to please both noshers and diners; we skipped the entree side and stuck to appetizers, and to our surprise, both of the things we ordered were at least as impressive as any of the charcuterie.  Actually, my favorite thing of the night was a dish called “sausage and waffles,” a big hunk of smoked sausage on top of maybe the best waffle I’ve ever had— the menu calls it a cornmeal-bacon waffle, it was robustly-flavored and with a nice tooth to it.  If somebody were doing a blog about waffling, these would be guys to talk to.

I was also surprised by something called “duck wings”— surprised that the duck wings had that much meat, that the sweet glaze was as well-composed as it was, that the creamy cucumber-mint raita that came with them for dipping was such a well-chosen variation on the usual creamy wing dip.

I’d have been fine with Old Town Social serving up good charcuterie and then taking it easy on the rest of the menu, but that’s not what happened at all.  The happy little sausages have many happy friends, and we were glad to have visited their happy land.

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