Marin Sun Farms cooking to entice locals

10/31/2013

The curing room at Marin Sun Farms’s butcher shop is cool and precisely 60 percent humid. Pancetta, hanging on one side, is preserved about two and a half months, while soppressata links, hanging on the other side, require roughly a month. Dangling nearby are the less commonly known lonza, bresola and fennel-flavored finocchiona. 

Determining by touch which ones were finished, the shop’s general manager and head butcher, Paul Bondick, squeezed a log of meat last Friday. “Feel how soft this is? It’s not ready. This one’s firm: It’s ready to chow down.” 

Mr. Bondick can butcher, cure, grind and grill just about any cut of meat. But he also has an ardent interest in drawing more locals to the corner of Sir Francis Drake and Highway One on the outskirts of Point Reyes Station. 

He is hoping to balance a customer scale he says favors city dwellers by a wide margin through consistency, a straightforward menu showcasing local producers and a Monday night locals’ dinner starting in 2014. 

Marin Sun Farms was founded in 1998 by Dave Evans, a fourth-generation Point Reyes rancher, and the butcher shop opened in 2005. It sells both Mr. Evans’s own pastured meat from his ranchland in Point Reyes National Seashore, as well as meat sourced from co-producers in nearby counties. 

The company supplies Bay Area natural groceries and restaurants as well as local establishments like Inverness’s Saltwater and Olema’s Sir and Star. 

It started small: back in 2004 it only sent about 100 cattle to market, but this summer Mr. Evans expanded his operations and opened the largest wholesale butcher shop in San Francisco. 

He invested millions so that he could butcher not only his meat but product from smaller producers to sell at farmers markets and through community-supported agriculture programs. 

Mr. Bondick worked at Marin Sun Farms’ butchery in Oakland for several months in 2010, and was again looking for work after a stint on the central coast early this year. The position at the Point Reyes shop was open, and Mr. Evans hired him. 

Mr. Bondick, who at 14 secured his first line cook job at Pepperoni’s Pizza in his hometown in Duluth, Ga., said his culinary vocation and love of meat springs from his parents’ cooking, which was influenced by his mother’s French-Creole heritage. 

Growing up in the South, he often hunted and butchered his own deer and wild pigs. “Cutting meat and cooking was a natural feeling of enjoyment and ability that I had as a kid,” he said.

In 2011 he nabbed his highest-ranking job yet, as sous chef at the now-closed Hudson Restaurant in Oakland. He and his girlfriend then moved to San Luis Obispo, but, deciding that the central coast provided fewer opportunities for their respective careers, returned to the Bay Area.

Though he never imagined running a butcher shop, Mr. Bondick can now easily name his favorite cut of meat: the bavette, a skirt steak. “It’s from the abdomen. It helps the animal breathe. It’s very well marbled, very tasty. My little name for it is the Cadillac of Skirt Steak.” 

But Mr. Bondick’s love of meat is not a zero-sum game. “The highlight of most of my day is making pork sausage,” he said. In this endeavor he uses a 40-pound sausage press that has a curious name—“a very vulgar name,” he explained. “Frederick Dickinson is the German name for this equipment, but they just label it ‘The Dick.’”

His menu’s daily selections include lamb burgers, beef burgers, goat burgers, fried chicken sandwiches and a steak sandwich. Of these, Mr. Bondick favors the goat patty. “Goat’s just now becoming popular as a protein to take home and cook for stews and curries and in burger form,” he said. “Getting people awake to the idea of trying new things is what I’m into.” Wings, steak frites, soup of the day and a chop salad are also on offer, as are beer, wine, sodas, iced tea and house-made lemonade.

One server, Ryan Allen-Parrot, says he came to Marin Sun Farms about a week after moving to northern California and ordered the goat burger, which has a gamier flavor than beef or lamb, and is topped with caramelized onions, goat cheese and sautéed mushrooms. He applied for a job immediately after the meal.

Server Kristena Hayes praised the dry-aged beef burger, a limited-time item, like a zealot. “The flavor is so intense and it’s so earthy. It’s like you can almost taste what the cow was eating,” she said. “One of the customers was like, ‘Your pupils are dilating when you’re talking about the burger.’”

In the dry-aged burger, each charred side is nestled sweetly against a grilled brioche bun and overlain with melted gruyere and strips of bacon. And despite its name, it is overwhelmingly moist, though patrons can add one of a suite of condiments—two types of aiolis, whole grain mustard or ketchup—supplied with the meal. A house-made lemonade provides a light and refreshing accompaniment, though last Sunday’s chilly afternoon may have been better suited to a dark beer or red wine; the restaurant also has a small tasting bar and serves Bolinas winemaker Sean Thackrey’s wines by the glass or bottle.

All sandwiches are accompanied by a salad, but that can be upgraded to one of a number of sides—organic fries, root vegetables, onion rings or brussels sprouts—all fried in pork fat. “We don’t want to waste too much as a whole-animal company,” Mr. Bondick explained. 

Gnawing away at a crispy pile of unassuming fries provides moments of respite between mouthfuls of burger to consider which grassy knoll the cow once feasted upon. 

 

The butcher shop at Marin Sun Farms, located at 10905 Highway One, is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. The restaurant is open from noon to 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. They can be reached at (415) 663.1800 and marinsunfarms.com.