When Blackbelly Market opened in east Boulder last fall, chef/owner Hosea Rosenberg had grand plans for offering the Front Range a full market, butcher shop, breakfast and lunch counter, and destination dining establishment. Those plans have all come together and Rosenberg's kitchen is in full swing, offering a meat-centric menu with a wide and shifting variety of steaks, chops, charcuterie and offal that only a restaurant bringing in whole animals could pull off.
Customers seem to be getting it too; Rosenberg is surprised at his guests' willingness to try everything from high-end, dry-aged cuts to beef testicles (called "veal fries" on the menu) to octopus to pig-ear terrine. "We're doing 16 to 20 orders of octopus a night," he notes, enough to go through a whole 10-pound octopus every day. That octopus, part of Blackbelly's new spring menu, is line-caught in Spain and tenderized in a special tumbler (Rosenberg says the tumbler is filled with what look like ping-pong balls) before being shipped to the U.S. The chef gives it even more tenderness by poaching it slowly in a court bouillon with citrus, chiles and herbs; the finished octopus sections are given a quick turn on the grill before coming to rest on a bed of endive, radishes from Blackbelly Farm, smoked marcona almonds and citrus supremes.
Regular customers will note that favorites from fall and winter — shrimp and grits with pork belly, beef tartare, rotisserie chicken — are still on the menu, but that the kitchen is rotating in new vegetables as they become available. "We don't tell the farmers what we want," Rosenberg states. "They tell us what they have."
So flourishes like foraged morels and young asparagus that come with the veal fries might soon give way to other mushrooms and vegetables once the weather turns hotter. And the produce isn't the only thing that changes regularly. A menu of butcher cuts is printed daily for those who want a steakhouse experience. "Because we're doing whole cows, we only have a set amount of cuts," the chef explains.
Those cuts aren't cheap either. But when the menu includes 50-day dry-aged porterhouse steaks (big ones, granted), for $80, they're still selling. Rosenberg explains that beef loses about one percent of its weight every day that it ages, so that after 50 days, it's only half of its original weight, but all of the flavor is concentrated into a smaller mass. It's also why the restaurant has to charge so much for those cuts.
But not everything on the menu is designed for special occasions. "We have some pretty serious vertical integration with all of the animals we bring in," says Rosenberg. Daily specials might included corn dogs with house-made hot dogs, barbecue duck sliders (to make use of all the confit of duck legs and thighs), and even a fried bologna sandwich — and yes, that bologna is made in-house, too. And what the kitchen can't use right away, the butcher counter sells to a growing customer base who have heard about the availability of specialty cuts — like a pig stomach that Rosenberg recently procured and sold through a special request — by word of mouth.
In addition to beef, pork and lamb cuts, the butcher case is stocked with bacon from various heritage breed pigs (like mulefoots sourced from Eric Skokan's Black Cat Farm), fresh sausage and even lardo made from mangalitsa back fat. The smoker out back is going at full tilt every day, turning out smoked sausages and pork shoulder for sale or use on the menu and the walk-in coolers are chock full of smoked pork hocks, beef bones, lamb legs and even heads, which Blackbelly used to make the occasional head cheese.
One piece that's still in the works is the salumi program. Yes, there's salami, coppa, culatello, prosciutto, and pancetta curing in the floor-to-ceiling display case up front, but final USDA approval is still pending, so for now the hanging sausages and trussed cuts are just for display.
The bar program, under general manager and beverage director Michael Cerretani, is also being spruced up for spring. A new cocktail list features the warm-weather flavors of lime, cucumber, jalapeños and mint in drinks that lean toward the lighter spectrum of spirits: gin, vodka, mezcal and tequila blanco.
The entire operation is almost mind boggling in its complexity, especially considering the many uses for every part of the animals that come in. With all of the different ways of using the meat, Blackbelly goes through three or four whole pigs a week and as many whole lambs. "We're lucky because we're busy," says Rosenberg by way of explanation. But it might just be the other way around: maybe Blackbelly is so busy (lines form around the corner for lunch and dinner reservations are tough to score) because Boulder residents know there's always something unique and interesting to be found inside.