By Susan Shields
Photography by Jenna Noel
At a time when reducing waste is on everyone’s mind, there may be no greater example of the use it all mentality than at Enoteca Vespaio—culinary little sister of Vespaio, the popular South Congress establishment named for the wasps that once inhabited it.
Offering slightly less bustle and pomp, Enoteca Vespaio greets patrons with a relaxed nod.
Yet tucked inside its gleaming-glass antipasti-and-charcuterie case is intricate artistry of a rare form: old-world-style pâté, rillette, galantine and mousse nestled alongside plump braids of mozzarella, cured olives, rustic meats and fragrant sausages—the vast majority of which are produced on-site, by hand.
These offerings are possible only because the restaurant does its own butchering. Daily deliveries often include half-cows, whole pigs, lamb, ducks, fish and, of course, a passel of usable goods aside from the meat.
“Innards, organs,” says Chef Ryan Samson. “All the stuff people don’t know about.”
Available daily by the pound are specialties like pâté de campagne (country-style pork pâté) and duck galantine—a delicacy produced from hand-processing seasoned, ground meat to form what’s known as “forcemeat,” which is then braised and served chilled. “We sell about 20 pounds a week of each,” notes Samson.
Many of the recipes and techniques used at Enoteca Vespaio come from Samson himself. From a very early age, he hunted and butchered with his family, learning to cure meats and make jerky—mastering the concept use everything. Later, studying at the New England Culinary Institute, Samson learned traditional recipes for pâté, mousse and rillette, and then over time, he says, he “just tweaked them until they worked.”
But none of these recipes work without access to the whole animal. A peek into the restaurant’s refrigerated walk-in reveals whole pigs and entire lambs hanging from hooks, as well as rows of California’s Grimaud Farms ducks—with the breasts slated for a nightly risotto special, the legs for confit, livers for mousse and pâté, and the bones for hearty stock.
Customers, for their part, seem to appreciate that stuff people don’t know about. Samson’s eyes light up when he talks about quickly selling out of the pig brains on crostini one night, the demand for squid ink, and the sought-after-with-frenzy bone marrow specials. Recently, the kitchen put creativity and hard work into producing an antipasto featuring virtually everything a duck has to offer: the head served as the centerpiece with braised tongue, confit-filled neck, liver mousse and a fried kidney and baby greens salad. “When you bring in everything whole, you can make nearly anything you like,” says Samson.
Delicacies of the cured variety are also featured at Enoteca Vespaio. Handmade sausages are offered year-round, including favorites like the North African merguez-style sausage made from a blend of meats (heavy on the ground lamb), pork fat and spicy harissa chili paste, as well as the house-cured braesola—an air-dried eye-of-round that’s been steeped in red wine, packed in salt, then wrapped and hung until it produces a distinctly unique shade of maroon.
“The cure time is relative to the size,” says Zach Davis, sous-chef at Vespaio. “It could take a month. It could take two. You just get to know when it’s ready.”
So what’s next for Enoteca Vespaio? They’ll continue their dedication to making all they can, but now with a passion for buying locally. Samson recently decided to use only local organic eggs—no small feat as the kitchen goes through 700 dozen eggs per week producing breads, pastries, dough and pasta for both restaurants. And in June, the restaurants averaged 800 pounds of local, organic tomatoes weekly.
As word of Enoteca Vespaio’s quest for more local goods has spread, farmers now convene outside the kitchen door on Saturdays following the markets. They bring with them what they needed to sell earlier in the day, but couldn’t. “It started small,” Samson says. “Now eight different farms show up in the parking lot. They come because they know that, pretty much, we’ll take it all.”
And there’s a good chance they’ll use it all, too.