Fancy this, fancy that? Fancy Meats is where it’s at.
Let’s talk about problems. Fancy problems. Terrine-related problems. If you’re reading this aloud you may want to cover sensitive ears. There was a time – yes, a not so recent time – when it was nearly impossible to find a decent country terrine in Orlando. Sure, sure, you could always have one served to you at a Ravenous Pig or La Boucherie but that would mean mingling with riff raff. Plus, those in the know know that terrine is best served at home – au naturel with a mug of ayahuasca.
What I’m about to tell you is true, which makes it all the more frightening. About a year ago, Orlando Eats hosted an afternoon fête at the haunted mansion. It was quite the scene; bouncy castles, bubble machines, carnies selling firearms from the back of a van. Everyone was there; Chef Nestor Krumb, Mayoral impersonator Duddy Byer, the Orlando Magic Dancers, Franklin Graham in swinger mode, my dad. A who’s who of imaginary acquaintances. Quite the scene, quite the scene.
In preparation for the soirée, we cured a side of salmon in beet and gin. Constructed an elaborate seafood tower. We waxed moustaches, auditioned toasts, and ironed our socks. The only ‘i’ undotted was a coarse terrine that we could serve with cornichon and mustard. Perhaps some piccalilli or pickled onion. You know, fancy food but not too fancy. Something to show we belong to those who never will.
Alas, there was nothing fancy to be had. Not at Petty’s, not at The Meat House, not at Orlando Meats. I know. I know. Quite horrific. There was foie aplenty – the faux fancy refuge of the Publix set, but we were craving roughhewn authenticity. With no other option, we settled for making the terrine ourselves; a duck and pork affair. Although delicious, it was a herculean effort I would wish upon no man (or woman). We advise having a healthy child make it for you.
Then – hallelujah – Hinckley’s happened. Hinckley’s Fancy Meats, that is. I suppose it less happened than we finally discovered it. Late to the game as usual. The specialty butcher shop has been in business since 2015.
Hinckley’s is Matt Hinckley, farm-to-table butcher extraordinaire. His sort-of-recently opened retail counter is tucked into East End Market in Orlando’s Audubon Park; a Fabergé egg’s throw from the manse. Even those familiar with East End may be unfamiliar with Hinckley’s. It occupies a small stall directly between Gideon’s Bakehouse and Olde Hearth Bread Company. Those at East End to seesaw between sweet and savory carbs might easily miss the meaty fulcrum, but those with a nose for different will find that Hinckley’s looms large, as does its namesake’s pedigree.
Mr. Matt has done duty in James Beard award-winning and Michelin-starred kitchens around the world; from New Zealand to Africa. Closer to home, he spent time with Michael Schwartz at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink – a firm favorite of myself and Munch during a past life in midtown Miami – and served as chef de cuisine at yet another fave; the now defunct PUBLIC in NYC. Simply put, Hinckley brings serious chops to his Orlando-based butchering biz.
Hinckley operates with an exceptionally thoughtful, nose-to-tail ethos buoyed by zero waste practices he grew to appreciate during his travels. Hearts and minds, friends. Hearts and minds. As in smoked elk heart and headcheese. He’s also particularly choosy about the local farms he chooses to work with, insisting that they be both humane and transparent.
In addition to the small butcher counter at East End, Hinckley’s charcuterie is available via a well-established mail order business. It’s the very same mail-order biz that netted a prestigious feather in Hinckley’s cap, seeing him named to the New York Times’ 2017 Holiday Gift Guide. Times’ food editor, Sam Sifton, raved about Hinckley’s “amazingly flavorful, deeply smoky” charcuterie, which we’re guessing ain’t bad for the ole biz. Online you can order from various boxes with names like ‘The Hunt Club’ and “The Lunch Box,’ which include treats like duck ham, ground elk and wild harvested deer, chorizo, tasso, and various pâtés.
But we’re here to talk brick and mortar. Two of our favorite takeaway tastes from Hinckley’s at East End are Duck Rillettes ($8) and Spuma di Lardo ($5). For those unfamiliar with lardo, it’s what it sounds like; cured fatback. I’m a big fan of the fatty salumi in general, and a specific fan of Hinckley’s version. Here, spuma (or mousse) of lardo (Spuma di Lardo) takes the form of balloon-whipped rendered pork fat with Celtic sea salt and raw wildflower honey. Yes. Grill a piece of good bread or an ear of corn, slather this on, drool and murmur appreciatively.
Duck Rillettes? Sublime. Shredded Long Island duck confit seasoned with Celtic sea salt and sealed in a jar beneath a layer of duck fat. Again, great with a simple piece of grilled bread, some mustard and pickles. Or ice-cream scooped into your mouth. Your call.
We’ve also taken home several terrines, including a Long Island duck & bacon w/ smoked antelope sausage inlay, duck liver & pickled chilies that served beautifully as lunch for two. Exactly the type of fancy we’ve longed for but could never find. And it gets even fancier – a recent terrine featured pork cheek, lobster & truffle. Enough to make my monocle mist over and get the top hat poppin’.
So, who’s in the market for this funstuff apart from food weirdos like us? Greater Orlando, it seems. On our first visit to Hinckley’s, Matt told us that he was a taken a bit by surprise by Orlando’s appetite for curious charcuterie. For instance, his smoked headcheese has been a hit since the get-go. Consider it a sign of market maturation.
Apart from takeaway sausage, spreads and other goodies, sandwiches are a damn fine reason to pay Hinckley’s a visit. Bread comes courtesy of neighboring Olde Hearth and produce is sourced from small Florida farms. Three of the better ones we’ve tasted are the Porchetta, a Pastrami, and a Bánh Mì. All three as scratch as scratch can be and will set you back $14. Never fear, it’s $14 worth of sammie. The porchetta is a thing of wonder, made from pork loin, rib, and belly deboned and seasoned with lemon, fennel, parsley, slow roasted for hours skin side out and then finished with a quick blast of heat to crisp the crackling. Meat is then dropped on to ciabatta and paired with a bit of bitter from broccolini and brightened by a salsa piccante of cascabel, serrano and fresno chilies, red onion, parsley, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice and zest.
Orlando Eats’ Go-Kart Romeo is often in New York. While there, he has two mandatories; biang biang noodles and pastrami on rye from Katz’s. He fancies himself a bit of a pastrami consultant, frequently brining up batches at Casa Romeo. What did he think of Hinckley’s pastrami on rye? A thing entirely unlike Katz’ but a thing he deeply enjoyed. A kiss of smoke, softened with a lovely house made Russian dressing, and just all around friggin’ good.
My personal fave? The Bánh Mì. For those unfamiliar with the Vietnamese sammie (anyone? anyone?), it’s not uncommon to find liver pâté as a filling. At Hinckley’s, its wonderful duck liver pâté is paired with pickled veg, radish and cilantro and inserted into a baguette to create a smack-you-in-brain take on the classic.
A detour on the above baguette. Am I the only Orlandoan that finds Olde Hearth Bread Company (OHBC) occasionally underwhelming? Por ejemplo, both the Bánh Mì baguette and ciabatta for the Porchetta (on separate occasions) were wonderfully flavorful but also overly dense, chewy and devoid of any texture resembling crisp. A bit of crunch would have played particularly well with the soft of the pâté. On the flip side, we enjoyed the softer rye roll on which the pastrami was served, but texture was less of a consideration. Not a huge deal – the bread’s tasty and the sandwiches are gorgeous overall – but I’ve had a couple of experiences of late (at other restos) where OHBC bread has been texturally suspect. It’s been a while since we’ve purchased bread directly from their counter, who knows how it’s stored and handled once it leaves, and Orlando humidity can wreak holy hell on dough, so I don’t want to make any unsubstantiated, blanket claims without first revisiting its straight-from-the-source product. We’ll delve deeper. Stay tuned. All I know is that – yes – more arid climes tend to produce a far superior crust and everywhere outside of Orlando is a more arid clime. Despite this, we’ve still managed to recently enjoy a perfectly crisped bánh mì baguette at Sushi Pop’s Chauhaus and partnered an A-OK Paris Banh Mi version with the last duck rillettes we took home from Hinckley’s. Jeez. Ramble much? Yes, I do.
Final note. Although sandwiches at Hinckley’s will make you do a happy dance, if it’s your first time dipping your toe in its meaty waters, it might be best to opt for a tasting board, which is what Go-Kart and I did on our most recent visit. Believe us, the meat sings wonderfully a cappella – no accompaniment required. You can choose two or three of an ever-evolving range of selections. Three, please. Our last board featured a pretty lean tasso, smoked headcheese, duck liver terrine, and smoked antelope sausage (OK, that’s four – Matt tossed in an extra). Charcuterie is served with pickles, radishes and mustard and when paired with a cold local from across-the-hall Bird of Paradise, a shaded picnic table and some Florida sunshine, it’s damn-near perfection – far from fancy but about as fancy as fancy gets.