Dear strangers: Apparently I learned nothing about just how dangerous you and your shady vehicles can be while I was growing up. How else do I explain my recent habit of jumping at the chance whenever I hear the foodie equivalent of “Hey kid – want some candy?”
Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon. My previous experience with Pipe Dreams chevre and my trip to a parking lot just off of Route 50 to buy charcuterie from Chef Jamie Stachowski in December have been unqualified wins. With food this good coming out of vans and beat up old Isuzu Troopers, who needs Harris Teeter?
On the Sunday morning before Christmas, I was randomly checking out Don Rockwell when I came across a topic labeled “Stachowski Charcuterie.” Intrigued, I opened up the thread and found a message from Chef Stachowski giving a time, place and password for people to meet up with him and purchase some of his amazing cured and uncured meats.
“Would you mind if I took a quick run out to Arlington to buy meat from the back of a truck?” I asked Elizabeth.
In most households, this one word response would be delivered with a tone that said, “What could possibly make you think this is a good idea, regardless of who the chef is?” Thankfully, Elizabeth was just as taken with the concept as I was, so the real subtext was more along the lines of “Why would you even waste the time to ask me about such an obviously good idea?”
With an eager smile (mine) and a bemused smirk (hers) I headed out. What awaited me was about as surreal as you might expect.
As I drove out Route 50, I placed a call to our good friend the Bacon Terrorist. I was fairly certain he’d never forgive me if I waited until after the fact to tell him about this. True to form, his response was something along the lines of “I’m on my way.”
Chef Stachowski was very clear in his post – he would be driving a beat-up Isuzu Trooper and would be selling between 12 and 2 PM. I figured I’d be able to meet him right at noon, buy my meats, and still make it back to DC in plenty of time to attend a christening. Just your average Sunday, right?
Unfortunately, there was something about a guy driving a junked Trooper so close to Fort Myer that made some people suspicious, so Stachowski was pulled over en route. He didn’t make it to the appointed rendezvous until 12:20, but when he did it was like Christmas had come early – and not just because he was wearing a Santa hat and beard.
“Hang on,” Stachowski said, holding up his hand. “What’s the password?”
We all looked at each other – this was the real deal! Each one of us in turn gave the arranged signal – “chacha” – and Stachowski was open for business.
As he set up his scale and starting unwrapping pate de campagne, I couldn’t shake a series of movie images: Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, Johnny Depp in Blow, Al Pacino in Scarface. Exaggeration? Maybe. But the the scene did bear a striking resemblance to your average movie depiction of a drug dealer’s den.
In addition to the linked fresh kielbasa, the boudin and the various pates and terrines that Stachowski advertised, he had a box of dry-cured salami, bloomy white with edible surface mold. They were even tied with string, perfect for hanging and creating your own version of the set of That’s Amore!
It was hard limiting myself to just a few choices, but I ended up leaving with a salami, two links of kielbasa and a package of boudin blanc. The salami would accompany us to New Jersey, where it would be put to the test on the traditional antipasto trays of my Italian family. General consensus? Stachowski’s salami was silky and full-flavored, with less salt than commercial brands. The fat content was a bit on the high side, but that definitely added to the richness.
Stachowski recommended poaching the kielbasa in water or broth before finishing it on the grill or in a sautee pan. Eager to put his advice into practice, I cooked up the first kielbasa the very next night. It came out tasting like a wonderfully spiced sausage, with a casing that offered a crisp snap with each bite. This was nothing like the pink smoked rounds you find in the grocery store…it was a great example of what a dedicated chef can do when he focuses on his passion.
With his recent departure from Thirsty Bernie, Stachowski is preparing to do exactly that. Take another look at the wrapping on that salami – you’ll see the logo and contact information for Stachowski Charcuterie, his new retail and wholesale venture. Needless to say, that’s going to take a while to get all the moving parts (and USDA certifications) in place. For now, the website isn’t active yet but you can contact Stachowski by phone or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he’ll get you a price list so you can place your own order.
Until then, I’m perfectly happy making my purchases on the sly from the back of the Trooper.