If "sandwich" is my favorite word in the English language, then "charcuterie" is my favorite word in French. You can keep your bibliotheque and your boulangerie; in my French class, I always wanted to va a la charcuterie. Which is why, when Butcher Block No. 9 & Charcuterie, the old-school butcher with the modern culinary sensibility, announced that it was serving lunch (weekdays 11:30-2), I was … how you say … enchanté.
I've been enjoying the meats from Butcher Block No. 9 since their Anchorage presence was only a booth at the South Anchorage Farmers Market under the name Mat-Valley Meats (the business still operates under that name in Wasilla).
The new storefront in South Anchorage is immaculate, with luscious displays of beautifully butchered, gleaming cuts of the usual beef, pork and chicken, as well as more unusual livestock and cuts like elk and buffalo and Alaska-grown pork knuckles (and, on my most recent visit, giant Alaska spot prawns). But my weakness is the robust and rustic cured meats: prosciutto di Palmer (who doesn't love a good pork-based pun?), guanciale, salami and landjaeger have all made their way onto my table and into my heart.
Real talk: When I splurge on something decadent like prosciutto or high-quality roast beef, I imagine that I will serve it elegantly perched on a slice of crusty baguette, with a sliver of cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and chives. Or, perhaps, wrapped around a ripe, juicy slice of melon. In reality, I pop haphazard slices onto a Triscuit or eat it directly from the package when no one is looking. So I was glad to put the experts in charge and let them treat their ingredients as they deserve to be treated.
The lunch offerings change daily and, on my first visit, I opted for one of each of the available sandwiches to share with my husband. The first was an Alaska-sourced porchetta sandwich (also known as Italian roast pork) served hot with stone-ground mustard, lettuce, tomatoes and house-made pickled onions ($10). The porchetta itself is mild, tender and almost creamy with fattiness. The sharpness of the mustard and the pickled onions were a welcome hit of vibrant acid against the richness of the meat. This was a satisfying, decadent sandwich.
The other sandwich featured smoked brisket with a house-made aioli and a crispy slaw on a grilled bun ($10). This brisket was exceptional — tender, juicy and powerfully smoky with a flavorful crust. The slaw added crunch and the aioli added creaminess, but what I really tasted was time: the layered flavors of slow-cooking were in every bite. Slow-food taste in a quick-lunch setting is a winning combination.
I returned the following week to pick up a Reuben sandwich ($10) and, while I was there, an individual chicken pot pie ($6) for my dinner. The Reuben is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches and this version is top notch. The house-made pastrami is tender and perfectly seasoned — not the salt bomb that lesser pastrami can be. The kraut and dressing add zip and creaminess. It was everything a Reuben should be and I was glad not to be sharing it.
The pot pie, which I reheated later at home was, first and foremost, adorable. A quaint rustic little pie with a crispy brown crust, it was stuffed with creamy chunks of chicken and vegetables. That said, it was a little bit bland. I could see herbs in the cream sauce but I couldn't actually taste them and the whole thing — crust included — was under-seasoned. This is a recipe that would benefit from just a little tweaking (read: salt).
On my third visit, I opted for the hot prime rib sandwich ($10), which contains 6 ounces of meat, caramelized onions, provolone, house-made horseradish sauce and comes with a side of jus. The meat was perfect — rare, tender, with a subtle sweetness. The horseradish sauce had just enough bite to add interest without overwhelming the other flavors. The jus, which can often taste like nothing more than saltwater, had a strong beefy flavor and the plastic container that held it was big enough for dipping (this is a small detail but the kind of thing I appreciate when packing up food to-go). The one disappointment was in the bread, which lacked a good crust. A sandwich built for dipping needs a vehicle that will soak up sauce without falling apart. I'd love to see this sandwich on a hoagie-style bun with a bit more substance.
I ordered the Cajun jambalaya ($5) soup on the side. The broth was light, bright, fresh and perfectly seasoned, with just the right amount of spice to wake up the taste buds without burning them out. Big chunks of chicken and sausage, plus a handful of rice, made this dish substantial and filling. And the generous portion could easily be shared (with, perhaps, a roll or a salad).
Along with lunch, I picked up some delicious Buffalo landjaeger, which I sliced up and ate with a glass of wine while cooking dinner. (Confession: I didn't even bother with the Triscuits.) In other words, Butcher Block No. 9 has you covered for lunch, dinner and your cocktail hour. And to that I will use up the last of my French by saying: Bon appétit!
Butcher Block No. 9
Lunch hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday
Location: 11108 Old Seward Highway, Suite 3
Contact: 907-349-1560 and butcherblockno9.com