Here, Anda pauses and makes the kind of face usually seen in news footage of a family watching their home go up in flames. Anda had lost four hams, gorgeous specimens that he had spent months curing and aging.
The anecdote underscores an important point about the artisan charcuterie movement: What was once a wild west of chefs curing, aging and/or smoking their own meats has, in just a few short years, turned into a professional world of high-tech curing rooms, pH meters and certified food-safety plans. No one embodies this radical shift better than Anda, the partner and creative force behind Red Apron, Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s gourmet butchery, sandwich shop and cured-meats emporium.
First introduced via farmers markets in Penn Quarter, Dupont Circle and other spots, Red Apron moved into the bricks-and-mortar world this year with two locations. In January, Red Apron opened a shop in Union Market in Northeast and, little over a month later, launched a more expansive Mosaic District store in Merrifield. A third shop is expected to debut on D Street NW in late summer.
Those who haven’t visited a Red Apron store might be hard-pressed to imagine its offerings. It sells not only chef-driven sandwiches, such as Anda’s signature Porkstrami (a pastrami-like product that starts with pork sirloin rather than beef brisket), but also pâtés, rillettes, dry-aged salami, fresh sausages, house-smoked bacon, pancetta, stocks, meatballs and a line of house-made hot dogs. As if that weren’t enough, Red Apron serves as a butcher shop, too, selling fresh meats both common to U.S. markets (rib-eyes, T-bones, tenderloins) and rarely seen here (such as the secreto, a pork cut similar to beef skirt steak).
Red Apron, in other words, is a candy store for meat lovers.
Such a Falstaffian rollout of products does not occur by accident, of course. The Neighborhood Restaurant Group has been working on Red Apron for five years now, an undertaking that has been slowed by construction delays, lease negotiations and the massive amount of paperwork required to secure the government’s blessing to feed the public cured meats.