It’s been a summer of feeding my vegetarian nieces, so I was pretty primed for a meal at Meat Press. Chef and co-owner, Étienne Cuerrier, is a wizard with all things flesh, bone and fat, and his hours and menu are now extended beyond lunch to include evenings, three days a week. Dinner is the reason I’ve returned to this little Armstrong Road sandwich shop/boucherie, just off main street Hintonburg. Now with a liquor license.
I wrote about the family run Meat Press in late 2015, when it was pretty new. I said then how grand it would if Cuerrier and his wife Myriam Campeau could one day offer more than soda to wash down the soppressata, and if their modest little place might stay open beyond 6pm, and… Ta da! Here we are, a year and half later, at an 8pm table on a Thursday night, staring down a short menu of beer, wine and sharing plates.
Curiously, we began by vegging out, and that turned out to be a very fine call. If I had to complain about Meat Press’ vegetable board, I’d ask for fewer fingerlings (good as they were) and more Brussels – these were crisped triumphs, their outer leaves curled and charred, their insides just-softened, and three forks fought over seven of them. Lightly pickled zucchini rounds, blanched and salted sugar snap peas, shrivelled nuggets of well-roasted eggplant, and pickled ramps completed the board, the thin stems of the wild leek the pop of pink in a field of green.
A trio of Cornish hen legs on a nest of cabbage slaw ($9) seemed the right thing to order next, the bird confited and super moist, then pankoed and fried to crisp, painted with a piquant sauce tarted up with rhubarb.
We could have stopped there and been perfectly full and perfectly happy for twenty-four bucks, split three ways. Which is only to say that a Meat Press dinner can be a good deal, and not to say we didn’t explore more of the menu. Continuing with Mariposa duck, three ways. Cuerrier had smoked the magret, then grilled it to pink, the thin layer of fat bronzed, the meat well seasoned and tender. He spun the leg meat into scrumptious rillettes, wildly rich; and with the gizzards, those hardworking red nuggets, he’d first preserved them in fat, then fried them up and tossed them into a little kale salad.
In my enthusiasm to run my finger through the béarnaise that pooled above and below the bavette, I took a quick and lousy photo of the dish. So you’ll just have to trust me: it was a superior piece of meat, perfectly grilled, and the tarragon-scented sauce was heaven, thick and tart and buttery. Along with steak and duck there were scallops, wrapped in serrano ham, seared and bathed with Pernod butter and set on a purée of sunchoke. (But please don’t serve three women four scallops: why not adjust the price and serve three? Or better still, offer six for an extra few bucks. Ever the trouble with ‘sharing’ plates.)
One dessert on offer: crème brulée, a bit funky with fresh cheese, served with strawberries and crème Chantilly. Lovely stuff.
The mini wine list on offer is all old world, mostly Italian and mostly fairly-priced.
Meat Press has been a fine deli and sandwich shop these past couple of years. Now open for dinner and licensed, it’s a very good little restaurant.