Charcuterie is nothing new. Heck, the method of preserving meats through various forms of curing is practically ancient. But as more and more chefs hop aboard the slow-food train— Cleveland food authority Michael Ruhlman calls charcuterie "the slowest food"—employing whole-animal butchery and nose-to-tail cookery, diners are seeing more and more brilliant housemade charcuterie.
Walk into any number of great local restaurants and you're more than likely to see a charcuterie board on the menu. We decided to check out some of the best around.
Arriving on a sleek wooden board, the charcuterie plate ($14) at Dante (2247 Professor Ave., 216-274-1200, restaurantdante.us) in Tremont is a work of art long in the making. The prosciutto alone is a painstaking two-year endeavor—and it's magical—but so too are the truffled mortadella, garlic sausage, country pork pate and creamy textured chicken liver mousse. "People come specifically for our chicken liver mousse," says chef-owner Dante Boccuzzi. The chef is nothing if not playful, and one item on the board in particular exemplifies that whimsy: "Slim Jims! Way better than your local Shell station," he says about his version of the junk food staple. Pickled veg and seasonal fruit mostarda balance the richness of the meats. To drink, Boccuzzi recommends Red Zephyr, the house blend from Puglia.
Chris DiLisi respects the role charcuterie has played and continues to play in gastronomy. "The best part of doing this as a chef is that it is a history lesson," says DiLisi, chef and owner of Willeyville (1051 West 10th St., 216-862-6422, thewilleyville.com) in the Flats. Order the charcuterie ($16) at this new restaurant and expect at least six rotating meats along with pickled fruits, veggies, and accompaniments that change seasonally. Bresaola—salted and dried beef—joins mortadella, beef andouille sausage, coppa di testa (head cheese), chicken liver pate and lardo. But the stars of this big, beautiful board are the porchetta, made with pork belly and tenderloin, and the jerky. "It is our way to pay homage to American charcuterie," notes the chef.
With a name like Black Pig (1865 West 25th St., 216-862-7551, theblackpigcleveland.com), it's pretty much a lock that the joint will offer a pork-centric charcuterie board. Sure enough, chef and owner Michael Nowak puts his passion on the plate ($10), offering three or four housemade items such as rustic pork pate with Black Pig pickles ("It is my Grandfather's bread and butter pickle recipe," says Nowak) truffle sausage with violet mustard mousse, and chicken liver mousse with local berries. Flatbread crackers and a grilled baguette accompany the selections. Pair the board with a Jolie Dame, a refreshing cocktail made with absinthe, Salers aperitif, lemon, and sparkling wine.
"We change our Ohio farm meats weekly, plus we do our own rolling, wrapping and curing of the meats, as well as drying," explains chef Fabio Mota of Club Isabella (2175 Cornell Rd., 216-229-1111, clubisabella.com) in Little Italy. Here, classic French cuisine is updated with a modern twist. But for the charcuterie board ($16), the chef prefers to keep things traditional. Highlights of the current iteration include two different types of terrine: pork terrine with pistachios and black truffles, and bacon-wrapped sausage terrine. The luscious spreads are served with toast points, whole grain mustard, cornichons and marmalade.
Demetrios Atheneos, chef and owner of the Oak Barrel Brasserie (5975 Canal Rd., 216-520-3640, theoakbarrel.com) in Valley View, calls his restaurant's charcuterie starter the Butcher's Plate ($12). When he purchased the former Hoggy's restaurant he inherited a beefy smoker, from which come many of the items on that Butcher's Plate. Smoked sausage and the chef's own beef jerky is countered by silky chicken liver pate studded with black truffles. Also made in-house is the peach marmalade, fruity mostarda, pickles and even the crostini. "Because of its earthiness, I'd go with a saison or golden ale," says the chef.
Of Brad Ball, the man behind the Big Board ($20) at Lolita (900 Literary Rd., 216-771-5652, lolitarestaurant.com) in Tremont, Michael Symon says, "He has the best hands for charcuterie in Cleveland; as good as I have had in Italy." Each unique and uniquely beautiful board is laden with some of this city's finest cured meats, pates and mousses. "With a combination of different flavors and textures, we try to keep it as three-dimensional as possible," says executive chef James Mowcomber. That means flushing out the board with grilled and pickled vegetables, vibrant mostarda, dried fruits and toasted baguette slices. An item that manages to stand out on this overcrowded board is the ghost pepper coppa. "This takes spicy coppa to a whole new level." Only a cold beer will tame that beast, says the chef.