Springtime in Southern California means swarms of critters make their northward migration: the slugs return to Capistrano, and massive flocks of butterflies flitter purposefully toward wherever it is they go. On Saturday, I drove to San Diego County through thick schools of butterflies for the entire 70 mile drive. It looked like a plague straight outta the Old Testament, if biblical Egypt were set-dressed by the Queer Eye guys.
After a morning errand in Carlsbad, I headed over to Tip Top Meats. Ostensibly a European deli and meat market that makes German charcuterie, they also have a restaurant that serves their delicious house-made sausages, hams and bacon. I had the Big John breakfast, a bargain for the big breakfast eater: three eggs, home fried potatoes, toast and all you can eat smokehouse bacon, pork link sausage, Polish sausage, bratwurst, or ham, for $6. It’s really a smart way to convince you to buy more product on your way out. I tried all of their sausage offerings, and couldn’t possibly finish it. They offer huge volume for the money, but also very high quality.
The smoked breakfast links were the best of the bunch, and I ended up buying some to take home. The fat brats and flavorful Polish sausages were griddled slowly to a dark brown, yet still juicy perfection. These sausage makers also know how to cook them well. I have to say I’ve had better brats in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (the brat capital of the nation), but Tip Top make a fine showing for Southern California.
They sell smoked beef bones for your ever faithful dog. They stock unusual wild game, like wild boar, ostrich, the Cajun specialty turducken, the Pennsylvania Dutch pork loaf called scrapple. They sell a half dozen varieties of German style liverwursts. If it mooed, oinked, clucked or grazed at one point, they have it here, or they’ll order it for you.
Their butcher shop sells excellent fresh meats, and house smoked hams, bacon, and turkeys. They cure their own corned beef and pastrami, which I’ll have to take home next time. I bought an unsliced slab of double smoked, dry cured bacon. Most supermarket bacon is wet cured, pumped full of brine and artificially flavored with smoke flavor. We end up paying for a lot of water at bacon prices. Before refrigeration was taken for granted, bacon was preserved by dry curing: i.e. packed with salt, sugar, flavorings (and nitrites) to draw out water from the pork belly, then hung in a cool smokehouse for hours which further dehydrates the meat and adds flavor. Can’t wait to try it!
I also took home a chunk of black pepper ham. The lingering burn of coarse ground peppercorns smolders for a long time in the mouth, complementing the understated smokiness of the mostly lean ham. A bit spicy for wee kids and invalids, but a good choice for grownups who love black pepper.
They sell all manner of imported goods from across (mostly Northern) Europe, such as the Scandinavian lye-preserved codfish called lutefisk. Take a homesick European there, and you’ll bring back one happy Euro. After reading about it for years, I finally tried licorice drops from Holland. Some two dozen varieties are stocked, each with a different shape, texture, or flavor. Unlike American licorice, the less sweet Dutch varieties are spiked more heavily with that distinct anise flavor, and surprisingly, salt. Sometimes lots of salt. One variety used an overwhelming amount: definitely an acquired habit. However, I’m glad that Tip Top stocks so many, and I’ll try some others when I take the family to see the famous Carlsbad flower fields in a few weeks.
Tip Top Meats & European Delicatessen
6118 Paseo del Norte
About ten miles further south, the Chino family produces unusual varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and famously supplies such temples of California cuisine as Los Angeles’ Spago and Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. Since strawberries are in season, I bought two small containers of the small French cultivar called mar du bois for a pricy $5 each. These small berries the size of my thumbtip packed with intense tart and sweet flavor make industrially farmed stawberries taste like flavorless red pulp. They grow every kind of produce for flavor, and pick at the height of ripeness to eat that day. Their boutique produce is very expensive, but you’ll know where your money goes.
Chino Nojo (nojo being a Japanese word for farm) is well off the freeway in a still underdeveloped part of highly exclusive Rancho Santa Fe, and it’s worth going out of your way to buy the best produce grown in Southern California. Bring cash – lots of it – because they don’t take credit cards.
6123 Calzada Del Bosque
(exit the 5 fwy at Via del Valle east, go about 5 miles and turn right after “The Vegetable Stand” sign)
Rancho Santa Fe, CA