Bacon has not jumped the shark. Despite its overexposure — the T-shirts, the Band-Aids, the mints, the bacon-smelling air fresheners that hang from rearview mirrors — bacon remains a popular and beloved meat. Just ask Jason Houser, the former chef at Muse and the proprietor of Meathouse, a new artisan butcher shop that has a booth at the Farmers Market in Marion Square on Saturdays. Houser can't keep bacon in stock, selling out of the streaky delicacy well before the Market closes at 2 p.m. every week.
"The early bird definitely gets the worm," says Houser, who left Muse in January and started cooking up plans for his meat shop — after he took some time off. "I relaxed a little bit; I'd been sweating in a kitchen for 15 years. Then I started working on recipes and making different sausages at my house. Just practicing, doing test batches."
Once he was ready to go, House, as his friends and family call him, and his wife Katie decided to launch Meathouse at the market, taking a baby step into owning and operating their own business. And speaking of babies, he couldn't have left the grueling restaurant world at a better time. The couple discovered they were pregnant a week after he put in his notice at Muse, a development that made his move a little bit scarier but even more rewarding, now that it's proving to be an idea that has legs.
In addition to bacon, Houser has a variety of specialty items for sale each week — from pork shoulders and chops to sausages and head cheese. Each week, he orders one pig from Steve Ellis at Bethel Trails Farm in Gray Court, S.C. — either a Tamworth or a Berkshire, breeds known for their beautiful marbling.
"One pig a week, that's all I have room for," he says. "I fabricate it — break it down into the primals, take all the cuts that I'm going to package for sale and package them. And then the bellies I keep for bacon, and the rest I separate into lean and fat, weigh those out and make sausage out of it."
His wife helps by labeling the products, and the two work the booth together on Saturday mornings, a welcome development for a husband and wife who've worked opposite schedules for years, she as an early-rising schoolteacher, he as a late-night executive chef.
Spending the day with Katie is not the only aspect he's enjoying at Meathouse. He's having a good time getting to know his customers, many of whom are quickly becoming repeats. "It's huge for me. Before, we were bare bones [at Muse]. If I was in the kitchen, I had a pan in my hand. I didn't have the luxury of talking to the customers."
Now, his customers return week after week, stocking up on spicy chorizo, andouille, sweet and hot Italian links, breakfast sausage, or the special of the day. He recently did a Spanish sausage called butifarra and likes to try something new each week.
"I also do pâté and head cheese, which is selling really well," says Houser. "I'm surprised by that, but we sell out of it every week."
Pork isn't the only meat at the Meathouse. Using a beef shoulder from Bethel Trails, he makes grass-fed, all-beef hotdogs. He also has raw cow's milk and duck eggs, and customers can special order beef, lamb, and chicken in addition to pork with free delivery for orders over $50.
"People have been so supportive, which is great," says Houser. "You can't get a local piece of meat around here unless you go to one of the restaurants."
And that's why he's cooking up some big plans for the future.
"This is just the beginning," he says. "There's gonna be more to come. I'm still feeling this out, but I've got a lot of plans in my head, and it all depends on what the people want."
And, if the weekly sell-outs are any indication, what the people want is bacon, plenty of bacon.
Meathouse can be found in Marion Square every Sat., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (843) 469-6000.