Sandwich City: Salt & Time

Salt & Time
1912 E. Seventh St. #A. 512-522-7258,
Hours: Butcher shop: 11am-7pm Sun, Tue-Thu and 11am-9pm Fri-Sat. Lunch: 11am-3pm Tue-Sat. Coffee bar: 7am-3pm Tue-Sun. Bar menu: 6-9pm Fri-Sat. Brunch: 11am Sun. Closed Mon.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 04.23.13
Salt & Time is one of those enterprise stories at the top of the Austin food chain. A resourceful union of craftspeople, butchery and the art of curing meat. The new shop on East Seventh is spartan, but it manages to play four hands from the same deck: meat counter, sandwich shop, craft beer bar and coffeeshop.
The glass case on the right holds neatly tied cylinders of pancetta and coffee lomo, tidy casings of sopressata and an elegant block of prosciutto at $75 a pound. The front case carries trays like schoolroom dioramas of the meat-cutting trade. One with goat: sirloin chops, twined-up leg roasts, tomahawk chops. Another tray holds pork that’s been carved with a surgeon’s care into marbled coppa chops, belly flats, even a wizard roast. The beef trays are the most artful, where the ivory-and-scarlet ribeyes stand beside pillars of osso buco with the weathered patina of wind-carved stone. Salt & Time even rolls up chew treats for the animals back home. And there’s always, always someone there to talk with you about all of it.
Or you might just watch the butchers at work through the landscape glass of the back room, where Bryan Butler was breaking down a hanging side of hog. Wrapping the animal in an aproned bear hug, he drew a short, sharp knife across its haunches like an artisanal assassin. Along with Ben Runkle, Butler is the face and force behind Salt & Time, fostering the business from farmer’s market darling to Austin City Limits vendor to a brick-and-mortar shop embraced by 275 believers on Kickstarter.
For customers having lunch at the bar or sitting along the window rails at lunchtime, there are pints of Texas beer, large-format Jester King bottles, red and white wine by the glass and a line of Cuvee Coffee drinks. And sandwiches — the only part of Salt & Time’s four-part harmony that struck a note of discord.
A sandwich should be more than a carrier of its star protein. The original one-handed main course, it carries the same flavor obligations as a composed dish. A balance of elements like fat, acid, salt, sweetness and texture. None of the six sandwiches I tried for this report delivered much beyond the meat and the bread that brung it. Good meat. Some of the best meat, in fact. Delicate, rose-hearted roast beef as soft as a buttered roll, pancetta like candied glass. And good bread, baked in the shop’s ovens through a symbiotic arrangement with a small-volume baker.
Roast beef is part of the standing sandwich menu, along with meat and veggie muffalettas. Specials orbit around them, things like pancetta, lamb, chicken salad, meatballs. This week it’s smoked pork chop. Prices run $8-$11 with potato chips.
The roast beef was a minimalist construct, finished only with white cheddar and a skein of jus to mottle the airpockets of ciabatta bread. Like the Boss needs the Big Man, it needed something to play against, if even just those bread-and-butter pickles from the cold case. A touch of acid and crunch wouldn’t have compromised the almighty beef. It would’ve been the saxophone part.
Red onion jam on a pork belly sandwich seemed like an appropriate response. But if there was red onion jam on this sandwich, it must have been on the half my guest took, because mine was all pork, mustard and frisee, and that was for color and not much else inside a dense poppyseed batard. It was reliant almost solely on pork belly the color of seasoned wood. Its innate sweetness and soft but sturdy bite were arguments against a food culture showing signs of weariness with pork belly, if not outright rebellion.
Some of the same issues carried over to a sandwich with thin, crispy pancetta. Same good poppyseed roll, same phantom jam, but this time with crescents of fennel and a layer of oiled spinach to work with pancetta as thin and crunchy as whispered gossip. And twice as salty. For their petite demeanor, both sandwiches were hard values to swallow at $11.
Value found a stronger champion in a wedge of muffaletta for $8, although I was skeptical of a sandwich that came from a tray of them sitting pre-made and uncovered on top the butcher case. Maybe cured meat and focaccia can hang a little air time without damage. There’s not much else to worry about. The haphazard schmear of olive tapenade posed danger of soaking neither bread nor taste receptors. In fact, I liked this sandwich better after pulling apart the delicate layers of ham, freckled cotto salame and funky, elastic mortadella to appreciate on their own. Bringing them together in that matrix of hard bread and provolone made the whole sandwich less than the sum of its parts. This is butcher-shop blasphemy, but I liked the veggie version better, with a tangle of marinated mushrooms and bitter greens and a sweet shot of carrot relish.
Which brings me to why I‘d forgive the sins of the sandwich and go back to Salt & Time for more than just its strengths as a butcher shop. The salumi board. For $14 came the proof of Salt & Time’s reputation for bringing New World execution to an Old World craft. Five meats fanned across the board included mosaic-marbled coppa, a terrine with the orange aura of chorizo, stubborn ovals of sopressata knobbed with fat, translucent lonzino like a rose with frosted alabaster fringes and a pork pâté made with bacon, pancetta, (512) Pecan Porter and macerated prunes. Add snack-size links of salami and sopressata from the deli case, a tidy packet of jalapeño elk jerky and a cold bottle of Argus Cidery’s sparkling Austin cider and you’d have a proper craftsman’s picnic.
(TOP: Sandwiches from Salt & Time, from left: roast beef, muffuletta and pork belly. The shop on East Seventh is part of a new retail block. The salumi board included, from left, coppa, chorizo terrine, sopressata, pork pâté and lonzino. FIRST INSET: From left: a sandwich with pancetta and fennel, a butcher’s case display and dried snacks, including elk jerky, a sopressata stick and salami. SECOND INSET: Roast beef sandwich with garlic confit and ranch dressing. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)