Do you remember Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch; the housekeeper Alice’s boyfriend? For many of you, that may be the only butcher you know. Butchers and butcher shops are not as common anymore, but lucky for us, they are making a comeback. I recently discovered one in a galaxy not so far away.
John Sepulveda opened his eponymous butcher shop in 2016 on 28th street, where the neighborhoods of Golden Hill and South Park come together. You may think, “I know where to buy good meat; why do you need to go to this shop?”
Most of the time, you won’t need to go; you will simply want to, as their housemade sausages and meats are of the utmost quality. In 2020 Sepulveda Meats was named one of the Best Butcher Shops and Meat Markets in America by Food & Wine Magazine. There are, however, times you need a real butcher; such was the case for me. Recently a client asked me to make a Porchetta Pork Roast for a party. This Italian show stopper would require a good meat market and a skilled butcher. Sepulveda Meats & Provisions to the rescue. So why do you need a butcher for a pork roast when you can get pork in the supermarket?
Porchetta is no ordinary pork roast. Porchetta, translated into English, means little female pig. Traditionally to prepare this dish, a whole pig was deboned with the skin left on, then seasoned, rolled, tied, and slow-roasted.
Seasoning is regional; salt, pepper, and garlic are standard. In the North of Italy, they add fennel flowers, and in the South, they use rosemary.
The roast is cooked low and slow for 6-8 hours while periodically brushing the skin with fat, making the skin crunchy. The skin also serves to keep the meat inside from drying out.
The version of porchetta I chose to make is less grandiose. The recipe requires a skin-on pork belly scored in a tight diamond pattern with an extremely sharp knife; this will produce amber-colored cracklings. Where do I find a whole, skin-on, pork belly, and do I have a sharp enough blade to score the skin?
The simple answer is Sepulveda Meats, and no, my knives sadly don’t get the tender loving care they used to. Sepulveda carries Berkshire pork, “the Kobe Beef of pork,” bread for flavor and more marbled meat. If I am making an effort to special-order this pork, why not make it easy on myself and have Nick, the butcher, do the hard work for me; pig skin is thick and challenging. I am sure Nick will make the cuts look pretty; after all, the skin takes center stage with porchetta.
While placing my order, I noticed that Sepulveda Meats isn’t just a great butcher shop; they own and operate a small eatery next door. To quote their website, Juan Jasper Kitchen and Wine is “a cozy neighborhood restaurant and wine bar with an ever-changing menu of classic global fare.” They serve beer and have a great selection of wines from around the world. The name Juan Jasper comes from John Sepulveda’s father, Juan, and Chef Mark Leisman’s father, Jasper.
A restaurant attached to a butcher shop; count me in. I vowed to return the next night for dinner. My date and I planned to arrive early, around five o’clock. The early arrival was not because we were looking for the blue plate special. This quaint neighborhood spot only had eight seats inside, with a few more on the patio. We got there early because I am too old and grumpy to wait for a table; they don’t take reservations.
We sat at the bar inside, right in front of Chef Mark, and watched him work his magic. Everything on the menu that night looked terrific, so we over-ordered and consequently over-ate. We started with Chorizo Deviled Eggs and a Spicy Caesar Salad. For our main course, we split the Pan Seared Halibut with an Asian broth, broccoli, and mushrooms. While eating, we watched Mark plate several New York Strips each served on a bead of mashed potatoes topped with Salsa Bravas, then a hamburger drenched in bordelaise.
This place is attached to a butcher shop; what were we thinking? Each dish looked over the top, but the mashed potatoes sold us, so we ordered the steak. Eating in a small restaurant like this is equivalent to sitting at a large communal table; we made friends with everyone occupying the other six seats. While eating our steak, others were enjoying the Crème Brûlée. Before I knew it, we were splitting one as well.
To say we enjoyed our experience is an understatement. The food was on point, and the conversation with the Chef, our waitress, and the other guests made the evening very special. I am embarrassed to say we practically had to roll out of there. I can’t wait to pick up my pork belly. I will time my arrival so Juan Jasper will be open. I can’t wait to have another go at it. Next time I will wear my food pants with the elastic waist.