As new restaurant openings continue at a rapid clip around New Orleans, occasionally one shifts the conversation a bit.
That’s what Piece of Meat (3301 Bienville St., 504-372-2289) has been doing around its butcher block, along its dining counter and over glass cases filled with sausage and salumi, steaks and chops, brisket and bacon. It’s made a difference for local aficionados who appreciate careful sourcing and craftsmanship.
Now the year-old Mid-City spot has drawn some high-profile national attention, too.
Piece of Meat made Food & Wine’s list of best new restaurants, a list of 10 restaurants coast to coast (see below) compiled by the magazine's restaurant editor at-large, Jordana Rothman.
"The whole place is a thing of unsubtle beauty," she wrote of Piece of Meat. "A hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care mosh pit of flavor and fun. Exactly the thing we were missing."
The Piece of Meat concept seems simple. This is a neighborhood butcher shop that doubles as a restaurant. What’s been impressive is that Piece of Meat truly has managed to be both.
Typically, one side overtakes the other, and sandwiches usually win as customers line up for lunch. The margin on sandwiches is better than the butcher case, after all, and the competition from grocers and super stores where most people buy meat is cutthroat.
And yet Piece of Meat has been a place where people both nosh and shop, and, tellingly, a place its devotees talk about when the topic turns to meat.
Butchers Leighann Smith and Daniel Jackson started Piece of Meat as a pop-up. They developed their Bienville Street shop with the owners of the adjacent Bayou Beer Garden and Bayou Wine Garden (an Epcot Center of alcohol, you step from beer world to wine world through their adjoining garden gate). The butcher shop is part of the campus.
Inside, Piece of Meat feels more like a crowded, busy workshop than a boutique showroom. It does not pretend to be old-timey. The guiding principles are classic, starting with trusted suppliers (Home Place Pastures in north Mississippi is a key one). But the style is its own, as is its sense of humor, starting with the cheeky name and fishnet leg logo. It feels artisan without the attitude.
There are sandwiches and meat plates, meaty brunch dishes and special events, like an epic, periodic steak night with regal, aged cuts.
Personally, though, I have used Piece of Meat much more as a butcher shop than a restaurant. Yes, I often take a seat and order a beer during my shopping trip, but I’m there for country ham to bring home, coppa and salami for a party or a boudin link for the car.
Piece of Meat was recently on "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives," and for those out there who like to look down their noses at spiky-haired host Guy Fieri, his team certainly picked some New Orleans spots that deserve the attention. Piece of Meat was featured beside old-school-at-heart po-boy shop Avery’s on Tulane and Seither’s Seafood, consistently one of the most fun casual restaurants in town.
These sort of national media accolades will always get people clucking about whether they got it right or if some other spot should have gotten the nod. But they are always good for New Orleans, a city that lives on its hospitality sector and needs people to see that this isn’t just a town of old classics.
In this case, Piece of Meat is getting its due for giving a classic approach some modern currency. I just hope they start curing more hams to keep up.
3301 Bienville St., (504) 372-2289
Food & Wine's Best New Restaurants for 2019 (see the full article here)
1. Cadence, Philadelphia, chefs Jon Nodler and Michael Fry and pastry chef Samantha Kincaid
2. Suerte, Austin, chef Fermin Nunez and restaurateur Sam Hellman-Mass
3. Frenchette, New York, chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson
4. Konbi, Los Angeles, chefs Akira Akuto and Nick Montgomery
5. Kumiko, Chicago, chef Noah Sandoval and creative director Julia Momose
6. Adda Indian Canteen, Long Island City, New York, Chef Chintan Pandya
7. Fox & the Knife, Boston, chef Karen Akunowicz
8. Indigo, Houston, chef Jonny Rhodes
9. Nightshade, Los Angeles, chef Mei Lin
10. Piece of Meat, New Orleans, butchers Leighann Smith and Daniel Jackson
Italian heritage runs through Rebecca Wilcomb’s veins. For years, though, the chef tried to keep it from coming through in her cooking.
This is not your standard Top 10 restaurant list.