Restaurant Review: Alla Salute, Salume
Great expectations at Salt & Time
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., May 31, 2013
Butchershop: Mon.-Sun., 10am-8pm; Restaurant: Mon.-Sun., 11am-10pm; Brunch, Sat.-Sun., 10am-3pm
Salt & Time Butcher Shop & Salumeria1912 E. Seventh, 512/524-1383
Lunch, Tue.-Sat., 11am-3pm; dinner, Thu.-Sat., 6-9pm; brunch, Sun., 11am-3pm
Earlier this spring, I put up what I thought was a fairly comprehensive blog post about the available muffaletas around town just in time for Mardi Gras. Not long after the post went live, several readers were quick to point out I'd overlooked a version of the NOLA-born sandwich being served at the brand new Salt & Time Butcher Shop. That was my first inkling that store owners Ben Runkle and Bryan Butler intended to be somewhat more than Austin's newest artisan butchers. Salt & Time debuted in February of this year, selling fresh cuts of locally sourced meats, sausages, salumi, charcuterie, and some prepared foods in a very attractive shop on Austin's Eastside.
The shop's retro, artisan attitude is supported by the use of some stylish antique refrigerated cases and wooden furniture created by a local company called Petrified Design. There's a lunch counter with stools and a few tables with benches inside, and a few dainty cafe tables on the porch. The atmosphere is casual and unpretentious, not quite a restaurant but not just a butcher shop, either. In addition to their exemplary meats, Runkle and Butler have assembled a selection of fine local products to serve as enhancements. As Baked in Austin, baker Simon Perez works overnight in the Salt & Time kitchen, turning out baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia, white sandwich loaves, and several kinds of sandwich rolls in addition to breakfast pastries every morning. The breakfast pastries are complemented by beverages from a Cuvee Coffee kiosk, and local delicacies from Confituras are served when toast and jam ($3) is ordered. Beer cocktails are made with craft brews from the neighborhood.
Knowing what I knew about the fine quality of all the basic ingredients in the mix here, I headed to brunch at Salt & Time with great expectations and discovered that the food service aspect of the company is still in the process of coalescing. We ordered coffee drinks, plus fried chicken ($9), an omelette roll ($11), and a plate of French toast ($10). We met our first stumbling block. Although they serve Cuvee's wonderful cold-brewed coffee, there's no ice (for any drinks), and the only sweetener is simple syrup. Stumbling block number two was the fried chicken: The thigh was perfectly cooked under a marvelously crispy mahogany crust, but the leg portion had lost most of its crust, displaying a clammy skin and meat that wasn't done at the bone. The salad was a handful of lettuce and cherry tomatoes simply dressed in oil and vinegar, and the jalapeño cornbread packed much more sugar than spice. My friend's omelette was lovely – a flat omelette filled with cured meats and mayonnaise was rolled and cut on the bias, the cold slices arrayed around a serving of rustic home fries and the same green salad. It tasted every bit as good as it looked, but we were both still hungry and counting on luxurious French toast to fill out the meal. My personal taste in French toast calls for moist, custardy slices of bread, crisped in butter on the griddle or a skillet, doused with syrup and a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. The Salt & Time brunch version offers two slices of Simon Perez's excellent white sandwich loaf with no evidence of custard under a buttery crisp exterior and scant flavor of syrup. The saving grace was a topping of sautéed local peaches. Given the superior quality of the bread and fruit, there was a missed opportunity for greatness there.
A few days later, a friend dropped by Salt & Time and picked up sandwiches for us to enjoy after a few hours of pickling peaches. I insisted on a muffaleta ($8), of course, and we also got the roast beef ($10) with pickled green tomatoes, aioli, and lettuce on a fresh ciabatta bun, as well as the Texas Cheese Steak ($11) with queso, roasted jalapeños, and mushrooms on a growler roll. Each sandwich came with a bag of house-made potato chips, a delicacy for chip lovers. All three sandwiches start with truly wonderful breads and are dressed with innovative condiments, although I prefer a chunky olive salad to a puree on a muffaleta. Both beef sandwiches were packed with plenty of shaved roast beef (albeit a little on the dry side), making the thin single slices of mortadella, cotto salami, smoked ham, and provolone on the muffaleta seem skimpy in comparison. Much like some other aspects of the operation at Salt & Time, all the sandwich components haven't quite coalesced in just the right way yet, but the basic quality here still gives me great expectations. I'll be back.