Talk to Elias Cairo for a minute or two and he'll bring up mold. If you have another few minutes, he'll move on to fat. According to Cairo, who ran the kitchen at Castagna before devoting his life to European meat preparations, the proper combination of these two factors makes for excellent dry-fermented salami. And at Cairo and his partners' Olympic Provisions, the first restaurant in Oregon where the staff can also legally sell its retail batches of cured and dry-aged meat (under the watchful eye of the USDA), they make excellent salami.
Portlanders get excited about meat—especially pork. We boast a bacon-of-the-month club, and our chefs have come to blows over heritage pigs. But Olympic Provisions, which opened last December in a cozy, white subway-tiled space that looks like a butcher's counter mated with a wine bar, is no one-trick pony. While Cairo spends his days behind a door labeled "Meat Dept." hand mixing and packing sausages for house and wholesale orders, chef Jason Barwikowski incorporates those links into a delicious, eclectic lineup of small plates.
Available at both lunch and dinner, the ever-changing charcuterie plate ($12) acts as the salumeria's greatest-hits CD: Sometimes you'll find salty, pungent saucisson sec, an Alsatian sausage flecked with garlic and black pepper that tastes like a European vacation. There are tiny gherkins, blobs of mustard, a tender chorizo and a big herby, creamy pork-rillette fat bomb. On another day, it's a fluffy pink pork-liver mousse tasting of iron and cream, or a hard Spanish salchichon that releases creamy and melty bursts of fat and nutmeg with each bite. The softer, sweeter Alsace link adds cinnamon and clove to the mix—it's the spice muffin of sausages.
The white scum on the outside of the sausages is the mold that Cairo, who says he helped his "very Greek" dad hang homemade salamis in the family's Salt Lake City garage when he was a kid, was talking about. Called a "bloom," it locks in and develops the tangy flavor of the salamis and protects them from bacterial infection as they hang, all 2,300 pounds of them, for nearly a month in OP's climate-controlled lockers. Eaters can spy chains of drying links through a tall window near the open kitchen while they grub.
Salamis a la carte are just the beginning here. At lunch there are hefty sandwiches, like a house sopressata on ciabatta amped up with marinated white anchovies ($9); omelettes ($8); soups ($5) and jewel-bright English peas kissed with mint and ricotta ($6). A recent show-stopper is the pork and beans ($8): a big, juicy kielbasa, seared deep brown, lying in a muddle of slightly sweet baked navy beans and bits of whatever pork the kitchen happens to be working with that day, from smoked trotters to uncured pork belly.
Dinner has a vibe similar to Clyde Common, where Barwikowski and his sous, Paul Oppliger, first tinkered with cooked and cured meats—including a cinnamon-y mortadella ($21.95/lb.) he says Oppliger has spent 100 hours perfecting, emulsifying batch after batch of spiced pork in a giant machine called a Buffalo Chopper.
Although meat is the star, don't skip the fish and veggie dishes. Last week, there was mackerel ($10), sliced into chubby sticks and seared crisp, served with a mouthful of oozy soft-boiled egg and dill-laced potato salad. Barwikowski serves his roasted pork belly topped with manila clams ($11); a briny, piggy, harissa-perfumed riff on an old Portuguese dish.
The servers are laid-back yet knowledgeable, the prices bearable and the small plates are big enough for three people to have one hefty bite each. You will have a glass of wine or a funky beer. There are sweets too, like a rhubarb galette with sour-cream ice cream ($6)—but, come on, let's have pancetta with fried egg for dessert.
- Order this: Best pork and beans ever. Saucisson sec, pancetta, sauerkraut to go from the packed deli case in the front of the restaurant (prices vary).
- Best deal: My god, the charcuterie plate.
- I’ll pass: Bland blood sausage tossed with slippery fava beans ($11).EAT: Olympic Provisions, 107 SE Washington St., 954-3663, olympicprovisions.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday. $$ Moderate. Find OP meats at Cheese Bar, Foster & Dobbs and local farmers markets. Currently, most sausages are crafted from Carlton Farms pigs.