Meat & Co.: Crafted Classic Sandwiches

John Ginnetti describes the sandwiches at his new Meat & Co. as "almost like cocktails on bread" – a fitting description from the owner of one of the state's most innovative cocktail lounges.

Meat & Co., a new "sandwich counter" tucked into an alcove adjacent to Ginnetti's116 Crown, is modeled after the Crown Street's inventive approach to its bar – fresh, premium ingredients; unusual combinations and preparations and careful, balanced composition.

Look carefully at the sandwich shop's logo and you'll notice the red "a" in "Meat" is flipped to look like an "e." That's Ginnetti's doing – it's intended to note that the lunch spot is as much about gathering and community as it is about physical nourishment. He said the restaurant's name was inspired in part by a Thanksgiving-dinner chat with his aunt, a former Latin teacher, who broke down the roots of the word "company" – "cum" (with) and "panis" (bread.)

"I really enjoy eating and drinking, but I like the ceremonial aspects of it, the social aspects of it," Ginnetti said.

Meat & Co. was first intended as a pop-up shop idea, an idea that came to him two years ago, Ginnetti said. He and his staff figured they'd try selling sandwiches in a temporary space somewhere, to see if the notion worked.

The pop-up never happened, but when the real estate office next door to the cocktail lounge vacated the space, Ginnetti jumped at the chance to build the sandwich counter. Executive chef Will Talamelli was tasked with writing the menu, and the new concept launched in September.

Talamelli said he started with classic sandwiches, some of his favorites, and "filled in the blanks" from there, elevating tried and true recipes with a few twists. Breads (pretzel, sourdough, ciabatta) come from Whole G in New Haven and Bread & Chocolate in Hamden. Sauces and slaws are crafted fresh daily, and produce is pickled in-house, maintaining the consistency that 116 Crown has demanded in its fine-dining kitchen, Ginnetti said.

The menu features 10 sandwiches, priced at $6.50 to $10, and each creation is finished on a hot panini press. The Rick Reuben is named for the legendary music producer, whose bearded visage in a framed photo keeps watch over the counter, and combines a choice of pastrami, tongue, or both meats with Swiss, cardamom and braised red cabbage slaw. It's accentuated with "All-Day" sauce, a labor-intensive aioli with red jalapeno relish that, despite the work involved, Ginnetti calls "Thousand Island sauce as done by Gucci."

Other meaty concoctions include the "PLT," with porchetta, arugula, tomato confit and paprika aioli; the "God Forbid" with roast beef, liverwurst, Landaff cheese, balsamic red onion jam, sesame and coriander; and the steak & cheese, with ribeye, crispy onions and malt vinegar. "The Opposition" melds chicken braised in ancho chile sauce with crumbled chevre, blueberry compote and carrot slaw, and the "Benny Franks" with thin-sliced turkey, sharp provolone, fig jam and whole grain mustard is based on a sandwich Talamelli makes for his wife.

On the lighter side, there's the Haute Tuna Melt: Sicilian tuna mixed with cherry peppers and chives and pressed with American cheese; the Equestrian with smoked salmon, cucumber, tomato and sesame cream cheese and the Shimmy, a mix of hummus, cucumber, mint, tomato, organic bay lettuces, rice wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil on olive bread.

Another vegetarian item is the unique Garden Rustler, made with roasted squash, housemade barbecue sauce and frizzled onions. Guests choose whether to add feta to complete the combination; Ginnetti recommends it for those who eat cheese.

"We have a huge vegetarian/vegan community in New Haven, so I wanted to make something for them that wasn't just a side dish, something meaty, something with substance," Talamelli said.

Sandwiches may rotate based on the availability of ingredients, Ginnetti said, as much of the produce comes directly from city farmers' markets. Soups will likely join the mix in the colder months. Potato chips from Deep River Snacks and baked goods like brownies round out the menu, along with boutique beverages from Fentiman's.

The sandwich shop has only 15 counter seats, which fill quickly at peak hours and provide the community atmosphere Ginnetti had hoped for, he said. At the moment, Meat & Co. only opens for lunch on weekdays, but he's considering adding a walk-up takeout window for late-night hours.

Ginnetti's first project, 116 Crown, is in its sixth year as a destination for craft cocktails and late-night dining. When the restaurant opened in 2007, Ginnetti said, "the street was dark." But in recent years, the neighborhood has become more residential, boosted by nearby development, he said.

As part of his relationship with the city, Ginnetti worked with parking authorities recently to set up an unconventional outdoor dining area – placing two tables with chairs in a parking space directly outside the restaurants. The experiment was gratifying, he said. "For me personally, [it means] the whole city knows we're here and we get to do it together."

The shift from high-end dining to the more casual sandwich format has been fun and creative, both Talamelli and Ginnetti agreed.

"When I make a dish, I try to craft it so it has a lot of balance in flavors," Talamelli said. "It's cool to make something where I didn't have to worry about how it was plated; [it's] fun to make a bunch of flavor and put it between bread."

"I like having two presences," Ginnetti said. "It's nice to be doing something that's just so very different. It's nice to get it right."

>>Meat & Co. is at 116 Crown Street (Suite C) in New Haven. It's open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information: 203-776-6328 and meatandcompany.com.