E ating a great meal can be an unforgettable experience. You could say, then, that sandwich shop Meat & Co., a homey yet upscale lunch counter recently opened by 116 Crown co-owners John Ginnetti and Danielle Ginnetti, is in the business of making memories.
Essential to this intimate eatery, where there’s limited space (expanded by a few tables out front in mild weather) and plenty of take-out orders, are the superb local, often organic ingredients and the components they’re turned into—brined turkey, cured pastrami, braised cabbage. By going the local and organic-preferred route, availability and seasonality more readily affect the menu.
So, if you fall in love with a particular offering, it might not be around next month, when you’re craving another. What’s more, the effort to stock the shelves with only the best means the shop occasionally sells out of a particular crowd-favorite (the Steak & Cheese with ribeye, American cheese, onions and malt vinegar, for instance) before closing time at 3 p.m.
“It’s not something we’re afraid of,” says John, emphasizing that when you’re buying exceptional ingredients, there’s only so much to go around. His team often shops at the local CitySeed farmer’s markets—where favorite in-state organic sources like the George Hall Farm in Simsbury, CT, and Waldingfield Farm in Washington, CT, set up booths—for produce to use the very same day.
The current menu includes the God Forbid: roast beef, liverwurst, balsamic red onion jam, Landaff cheese, sesame and coriander. Then there’s the Rick Reuben, named for the famous and versatile record producer Rick Rubin, whose picture hangs on the wall: a choice of pastrami or cow tongue (or half and half), all-day sauce, Swiss cheese, cardamom and braised red cabbage slaw.
Maybe you’re asking, “What in the world is ‘all-day-sauce’”? Answer: a mix of jalapeño relish and garlic aioli, with shallots and cornichons.
And maybe that sounds scary. But here, fortune favors the bold, because “all the ingredients are meant to go together,” says Danielle of each sandwich, while John compares them to the specialty cocktails next door at 116 Crown, where each concoction is a carefully composed symphony of flavors.
Manager Jared Emerling talks up the tongue, which is marinated in broth until it’s “velvet-smooth,” then sliced thin, he says, adding that one of the best parts of the job is watching repeat customers learn to love new foods.
Despite a butcher-esque name and ingredients like that tongue, the meatless still have very compelling reasons to visit Meat & Co.: the Garden Rustler and the Shimmy. The Rustler (pictured third above) has barbecue squash, onion frizzle and house-made bbq sauce, with optional feta. Pieces of onion frizzle act as mini umami taste bursts, and the vegan-friendly barbecue sauce, which takes hours to prepare, is vinegary and sweet, contrasting well with wonderfully hearty, earthy bread.
The Shimmy (pictured second above), on the other hand, is fresh and light with house-prepared hummus, cucumber, mint, tomato, organic bay lettuces and—the keys to its savoriness—rice wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, with an airy, thinner-sliced bread that, even slightly charred, is pleasantly spongy.
Unless you’ve called ahead to order, a line of people in front of you can mean a substantial time commitment, and, while the Shimmy is $6.50, most sandwiches here are an above-average $10. But these bready wonders warrant waiting, and paying, a bit more, because they’re leagues ahead of ordinary deli sandwiches.
The Opposition—ancho chili chicken, crumbled chevre, carrot slaw and blueberry compote—which is served warm (as all sandwiches are) on crusty, chewy bread, is like a reimagined Thanksgiving dinner that hits your nostalgia button anyway. It’s also delightful to eat: the chicken’s moderate spiciness lingers just long enough before being cooled by the slaw and homemade compote.
The shop serves a variety of Fentimans specialty sodas, including a zippy “traditional” ginger beer, as well as Coke in glass bottles—the kind from Mexico, made with real sugar—and sweets from the pastry chef next door. Recently there were German Chocolate Brownies with a pecan coconut crust, and oatmeal cookies made with golden raisins and dried cranberries.
Meat & Co.’s extension of 116 Crown’s careful and elevated approach to fine dining—to sandwiches, of all things—brings us back to that picture of Rubin, who Emerling calls “our guy.” The producer, who worked with artists from Neil Diamond to the Beastie Boys, “did so many different things well,” Emerling says. “That’s what we aim to do.”
Meat & Co.
116 Crown Street, New Haven (map)
Written by Cara McDonough. Photographed by Dan Mims.