There was a time when you knew your local butcher like you know your neighbor. A time when you'd walk inside and the butcher, donning a blood-stained white apron, would greet you by name, talk to you about the high school football team, then trim you off the cuts you needed for a nice porterhouse, wrapped up in thick butcher paper and packaged neatly for your hungry family. Those experiences are far less common today with the onslaught of big box grocery chains. But with more recent demands nationwide for locally raised, sustainable meats, brave young minds are stepping up to the plate to offer the highest quality product available, tickling the fancy of locavores in every town. Hillcrest Artisan Meats, affectionately known as H.A.M., has been carving out a niche in the meat market of Little Rock since late 2011, and the reception has been unanimously positive. If you haven't had the good fortune to find yourself within this carnival for carnivores, you are missing out on one of the greatest gems in the Arkansas dining scene.
At the helm of H.A.M. are owners Brandon Brown and wife, Tara Provita-Brown. Together they have created a comfortable space, perfect for picking up a few sandwiches on-the-go or stocking up on your weekly supply of pork and beef to feed the hungry vultures at home. There are two cases in the shop; a charcuterie case and a fresh meat case. About 80 percent of their fresh meats come from 4 small farms in Arkansas: Falling Sky Farm near Marshall, Freckle Face Farm in McRae, Farm Girl Natural Foods in Perryville, and Ratchford Farm also in Marshall. From these they purchase whole hogs, pork belly, beef, venison, and buffalo. H.A.M. uses these fresh meats to craft their own sausages, made daily in small batches, as well as other products such as apple-wood smoked bacon, pancetta, and jowl bacon. The charcuterie case is chock full of cured meats, sold by the pound and used on sandwiches. Additionally, they are making their own terrines, pates, pork confit, duck ham, and porchetta and more using locally sourced meats from Arkansas farms.
You will not want to miss out on their artisanal sandwiches. Perhaps this is obvious, but the best products require the best ingredients. When it comes to using only the freshest, most flavorful cuts of meat, you won't find them any better than those offered at H.A.M. With breads delivered daily from Boulevard Bread Co. there is practically no way these sandwiches can fail. While the menu changes daily, allowing for the best products of the day to get their time to shine, there are some items that seem to make regular appearances.
One of the more recent additions is the Brick-pressed Rosemary Ham sandwich, which may possibly be the world’s most perfect ham and cheese. Savory ham, smoked and spiced with rosemary is layered on a soft white roll. Sharp cheddar, red onion, tomato, bacon, and aioli join the party, and the entire sandwich is thrown on a flattop and grilled under the weight of a foil-wrapped brick. This gives the bread a perfectly crunchy exterior and soft chewy inside, while the encompassed cheese gently melts and oozes out the sides. The magic is really in the aioli, which is made from scratch using a recipe Brandon has been whipping up, to just-the-right consistency, for more than 20 years.
Their eponymous sandwich, The H.A.M., is also a favorite among loyal customers. This creation utilizes cold cut salame rosa , prosciutto cotto (thinly sliced cooked Italian ham), capicola (a dry-cured Italian pork shoulder), and provolone with a thin spread of Dijon and that wonderful aioli. Many patrons go crazy for their meatball sub, composed of meatballs made from scratch using Ratchford Farms ground beef and fresh herbs from local farms, housemade marinara using local organic tomatoes, provolone and a toasted hoagie.