You might think chef's boards are a fail-safe option on any restaurant menu, but the truth is, not all combinations of meat, cheese, and accoutrements are created equally. Cellophane-wrapped meat straight out of the supermarket, sub-par bread, and low-quality fixings might do that in a hurry, but with the right meaty, spreadable, curable delights (maybe even a flourish of figgy jam and a marinated sprig of asparagus) and you've got a board that offers indulgent bites of personalized perfection.
10. North Italia
The key to building a badass chef’s board is finding just the might mix of flavors, textures, colors, and crunches so you swoon as soon as it arrives at the table and crush even harder the more you nibble — and North delivers. The chefs don’t just select the provisions, they do much of the handiwork, too. Asparagus is grilled, chilled, and splashed with balsamic, apricots jammed, prosciutto expertly sliced, and eggplant evolved into a tangy tart caponata. The finale: You get a mural of meats, cheeses, almonds, olives, and spreads that marry creamy and crunchy, sweet and savory in a bellissimo way. Best of all, the piled plank is only $10 during happy hour and all day Sunday.
9. T. Cook’s
It’s as if the Artisan Cheese & Charcuterie Slate at T. Cook's has an ulterior motive: to get you drunk. All the savory meats and creamy cheeses, including tangy sheep’s milk Manchego, Drunken Goat bathed in red wine, mounds of coppa ham, and salty bresaola beef seem to be in cohoots to make your wine go down smoother. You can blame chef Todd Allison, who personally selects all the components. Even the sides seem to be in on the conspiracy with the house-made fig and peach compote, rosemary almonds, and melodically sweet cuboids of fresh honeycomb accentuating the caramel, floral notes in your wine just so.
At Kelly's At Southbridge, good things come in threes. To be exact, three meats (pinwheels of prosciutto, spirals of soppressata, and piles of charcuterie chorizo) and three cheeses (a mild port, a soft brie, and a slightly sweet gorgonzola dolce), all generously portioned around an almost too-pretty-to-eat plate with berries dotted over fancy fruit purees. The accompanying lavosh makes smearing on the cheese and sinking your teeth in tough, but ideal for manicured ladies who don’t lick their fingers between bites, which Kelly’s has in spades. However, if that's not your style, the restaurant will swap in bread.
7. Salty Sow
The board at this buzzy North Phoenix eatery has the usual suspects covered: a generous wedge of Humboldt Fog goat cheese that looks like layer cake, peppery slices of salami and soppressata, and aged cheddar with a sharp bite. But like the gastropub’s name, the board gets sassy with its whipped chicken liver mousse (a meat-meets-ice-cream concoction that would make Julia Child smile), melt-in-your-mouth smoked trout topped with dill sauce, and a wine-soaked cranberry and pistachio pate we dare you not to like, all of which are made in-house. In short, it’s a mix of old friends and new faves that’ll push your palate in all the right ways.
If you can handle your chef’s board with a side of snobbery, Second Story is your place: a Rat Pack meets Meghan Trainor upscale speakeasy above The Gelato Spot in Old Town. If you make it past the hostess manning the door (“reservations are preferred”), you enter a world of whiskey, leather, and ambient lighting. Served up on a slate turntable, the chef’s board has the same buttoned-up panache as the bartenders and the same substance behind the style. The soppressata is saltier and denser than any cured meat you’ve nibbled before, the drunken cherry mostarda will get you drunk with delight, the marbled black truffle cheese is a revelation, and the pickled caper berries make all the flavors sing. You can even get the micro version of the full board for $15 during happy hour.
Epic. That’s the simplest way to sum up Sorso’s Grande Charcuterie, an ambitious platter of meats, cheeses, olives, nuts, and jam, a something-for-everyone shared plate that can satiate both heroic appetites and discerning palates. No matter how you stack it — Felino salame with curly cues of P’tit Basque sheep’s milk from France, super-spreadable double-cream Brie with spicy chorizo, prosciutto de parma with flavor-packed porter cheddar from Ireland — your taste buds will be singing. The supersized drinks menu follows suit, with 150 bottles of wine, 32 self-serve wine dispensers, and craft beers aplenty. If you’re more into grazing then gobbling, they have a half-priced platter that’s less epic but equally as tasty.
4. The Parlor
Parlor gets points for its choose-your-own-adventure-type board. Diners get a checklist of meats, cheeses, and accompaniments ($5 each), and out comes a masterpiece of your making. Not that you do all the work. The real art comes in the menu, a carefully curated harmony of award-winning cheeses (the mustard-seed infused cheddar from England is the bomb), melt-in-your mouth meats, some with gourmet spins (the mortadella is infused with pistachios) and house-made extras (the spicy candied pecans are perfection). All of the above come with grilled bread and wood-fired flatbread drizzled in olive oil and a trio of herby, peppery, and pickled toppers that add zing to every bite.
Tuck Shop’s Charcuterie Board has "work of art" written all over it. The wooden paddle canvas is a palette of pastel green, red, olive, and orange thanks to piled-high stacks of delicately shredded Sage Derby, smoked gouda, Spanish chorizo and prosciutto, plus olives, almonds, house-made red pepper hummus and a green apple sliced like a Frank Gehry staircase. The whole thing is finished off with Jackson Pollock-like drizzles of olive oil and fresh crushed pepper. The cheeses are a tad one-note, but what the board lacks in bite, it more than makes up for in presentation and price, since it's only $10 at happy hour.
Given the restaurant’s name, it’s no wonder Stock & Stable's Salumi Board (the Italian word for cured pork or beef), is a feast of meat, a mosaic of salami, chorizo, perfectly marbled creminelli coppa, and salty soppressata with a generous side of cocktail sausages glazed in sticky sweet grape jelly. But chef Joe Absolor knows all that salty needs sweet, sour, and creamy for balance, so cured stuff comes with rosemary-crusted goat’s cheese, gouda infused with potato chips, and pickled fruits and vegetables that’ll pop in your mouth. Who knew marinated melons could taste so good? And every bite tastes better with the scratch-made rhubarb-plum-cherry jam, even if it’s just mated with spongy Noble Bread. Swing by at happy hour and score all of the above for $20.
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SHOW ME HOW
This is sex on a plate. It will cause your face to contort in revelry. It will induce sighs of delight. It will leave you totally, utterly satisfied, and not in a utilitarian wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of way. This is the read deal, and it has everything to do with chef Dustin Christofolo, whose affinity for seasonal ingredients, scratch-made preparation, and symmetry of sapidity and is unmatched. The porks are house-cured and offered ingeniously: lonza topped with plum preserve, pistachio, and fresh basil; head cheese with a dehydrated apple chip and pickled shallot; and coppa served solo in spicy bites that would make Anthony Bourdain blush. There are also house-made raisins, picked watermelon rind, salt-cured strawberries, cubes of savory apple butter, walnuts drizzled with local honey, pickled veggies from right next door, creamy mounds of chèvre, and salty cubes of feta from Black Mesa Ranch. You just might need a cigarette after this one.