Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco
Sebastian Maniscalco continues to build upon arguably the most successful year of his career yet: In 2016 he was named Just For Laughs Stand Up Comedian of the Year, selected
When Cochon Butcher opened in New Orleans in 2006—shortly after Hurricane Katrina and a levee-system failure ravaged the town—it was a symbol of hope for residents. They embraced it with wide-open arms—and so did everyone else who ate there, including the New York Times’ then-food critic, Frank Bruni, who in 2008 declared the Cajun outpost the third best restaurant in the country. He lauded chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski for their entire pig-centric menu, which he said was meant for “heartfelt feasting.”
Head Cheese with Chow-Chow and Mustard, $6
Hot Boudin, $6
Marinated Brussels Sprouts, $6
Cochon Muffaletta, $12
Moroccan Spiced Lamb, $12
Le Pig Mac, $10
Ten years later, the Crescent City establishment and its offshoot, Cochon Butcher, are still beloved—not to mention still packed. And when their first replication of the project, Cochon Butcher Nashville, opened this past August, it was met with an equal amount of fawning and adoration. Music City food fans immediately descended—and it’s felt like a party on their Germantown patio ever since.
“The response from the community has been tremendous,” says chef Levon Wallace, who was tapped to helm the Nashville kitchen. “Donald, Stephen, and I are collectively very excited to be here, and the support so far has been humbling.”
Especially considering that Cochon Butcher is essentially a sandwich and wine bar with the added bonus of a butcher case full of to-go items. Diners order up their food and beverages at a counter before settling in at one of the handful of high-top tables or out on the patio. There’s a small bar with seating for a few as well as several alfresco bar stools that are served by the bar.
But there’s more to this concept than muffalettas and take-home sausages. What the Link Restaurant Group simply nails is creating an excellent and memorable experience—from the thought that goes into the homemade pickles to the genuine friendliness of the staff.
“It’s not meant to be flashy. It’s just meant to be good,” states Wallace. Originally from California, the chef found himself in Nashville years ago on a cross-country road trip.“I instantly fell in love with it, so it’s always been in the back of my mind that I’d make it back here,” he says.
In fact, after a long stay in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Wallace worked for a hotel group, he and his wife bought a home here thinking Nashville would be their next stop—but a call to work with the 21c Hotel in Louisville took them to Kentucky for a three-year detour at the hotel’s restaurant Proof On Main.
“It was an incredible opportunity to get to know so many people within the Southeastern and Midwest food communities,” he says.
Plus, the hotel’s owners are preservationists Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, who live on the historic Woodland Farm in Goshen, Kentucky, where they raise bison and provide the restaurant with bison meat, eggs, heritage hogs, and produce.
“I was able to completely connect with the local food systems there,” Wallace adds.
At Cochon Butcher, he’s primarily focused on pig, thanks to a pork-heavy menu. (Cochon is a French term for pig.) From housemade bacon and pork belly to a Cajun pork dog and the restaurant’s signature Le Pig Mac—two pork patties with special sauce and a sesame-seed bun that tastes far better than its Mickey D’s namesake—you can find just about every porcine part on the menu or in the deli case.
Part of the reason for that is Link Restaurant Group’s partnership in the Fatback Pig Project, a heritage hog farmers’ collaborative in Alabama, which supplies Cochon Butcher with much of its pork as well as a number of sausages and other cured products. (Fresh Hospitality, which has a stake in Cochon Butcher, is also a partner in Fatback.) One look at the menu and there is no question you are in meat country—but there is also balance (and even a vegetarian dish in the form of a curried lentil roti), with most items getting a zing and a pop of acid in the form of housemade mayos, mustards, pickles, and chow-chow. The Moroccan spiced lamb wrap is a blend of a heat-laced meat with the cool creaminess of cucumbers and tzatziki, while the buckboard bacon melt is topped with a tangled pile of collards in between white bread.
Wallace and the team ease up where they can, adding chicken liver to their boudin instead of the more unctuous yet traditional pork liver. Plus, one of the most flavorful items on the menu might just be the Brussels sprouts, which get a nice char as well as a hint of fresh mint.
But if meat is your main focus, you’ve come to the right spot. Order up their take on the Cubano (smoked pork with sliced ham and Swiss cheese) or, better yet, the New Orleans classic Cochon muffaletta, which is a neatly rounded sesame bun stacked with housemade deli meats and a tangy olive spread. As Wallace contends, it doesn’t matter what you choose.
“We are putting a very high level of attention to detail into every single plate—even if we are just making sandwiches,” he says.
1120 4th Ave. N., 615-567-5887; cochonbutcher.com