The New York import lasted just under a year in Pittsburgh’s North Side.
This week, Kevin Costa, owner of Crested Duck Charcuterie in Beechview, will have earned the U.S. Department of Agriculture certification that ensures standards for butchery, a process that has taken more than a year to complete. This means by the end of the month, he'll be supplying Giant Eagle's Market District stores with dry-aged meat, first in Robinson, followed by stores in McMurray, Pine and Shadyside.
That's not the only news for an entrepreneur who has carved a reputation with his DIY work ethic. In December, Mr. Costa started weekend-only restaurant service in the 16-seat dining room adjacent to the kitchen. The shop also expanded its presence in the Strip District with the relocation of the Pittsburgh Public Market in October, transferring over all retail sales there after they had been split between locations since he opened in Beechview in January 2012.
The growth of Crested Duck Charcuterie is a feel-good, underdog narrative. After returning from a Peace Corps stint in West Africa, the 28-year-old Ross native got into butchery at The Goose in Indianapolis, Ind. From there, Mr. Costa returned to Pittsburgh and taught himself the craft of charcuterie, studying from books and online sources as well as corralling advice from hobbyists and farmers.
Without an experienced mentor, it has not been an easy process. "It took me at least 10 tries to get the mortadella right," he says.
Mr. Costa sold cured meats under the name Crested Duck Charcuterie first as a stand at Farmers@Firehouse market, followed by a stall at the Pittsburgh Public Market when it opened in summer 2011.
Nearly a year later, he made a bold move by setting up his brick and mortar business in Beechview, a neighborhood that has been slow to revive from a tough economy. He's had help from his parents, Don and Donna Costa, as well as his brother, Adam, his primary investors. He lived in the apartment above the shop until he bought a house three doors down last month.
"Beechview was where I found a building big enough for the curing room in the cellar," he said. Downstairs Mr. Costa has outfitted a temperature- and humidity-controlled room with shelves where bresaola hangs next to prosciutto, guanciale and lomo. It smells divine: grassy and sweet with a little funk.
When Mr. Costa bought the building, he tore out the three-door entry and added two huge plate-glass windows with views of the trolleys on Broadway. The ground floor was revamped into two rooms. One is the kitchen with a Garland oven and an Iron Ridge smoker. By a window, the demo table stands where he breaks down whole animals and holds monthly Wednesday night classes.
In early December, the second room debuted as the dining room with the start of weekend dinner service with red walls and tables dressed in black tablecloths. A service bar softens the space with reclaimed wood. A former barn pulley has been wired with bulbs to serve as a chandelier.
The menu of signatures, cold plates, hot plates and dessert is a work in progress. It includes a charcuterie assortment of five items and condiments, a cheese plate and homemade pickles.
A Provencal tart with flaky crust presents like flatbread dressed with caramelized onions. Heirloom grain salad is spiked with currants, pecans and fennel. Crispy pork belly is served with mostarda on a bed of arugula and radishes.
Mr. Costa suggests the duck liver mousse, a pale mound that looks like flan, sweetened with honey and served with fig, frisee and pancetta.
Mr. Costa also recommends duck confit wrapped in a crepe with pears, dolloped with creme fraiche and pickled red onion. He says the meatballs are a concession on what he hopes will shape into a more adventurous menu. Spiked with chili and black pepper, meatballs are dressed with arugula pesto instead of marinara.
Eventually, he will incorporate specials and extend dinner hours, such as Sundays for starters. "There's not much open in Beechview then," he says. He'd also like to add more seats.
As sales have increased, Mr. Costa has bought from bigger farms that offer antibiotic and hormone-free meat. They include Jamison Farm in Latrobe that will sell him individual cuts such as pork belly rather than whole animals. This is a departure from his early practice of supporting very small family farms.
"I sell so much bacon I'd have too many cuts left over that would not sell at the same pace," he says.
Despite the expanded presence in the Public Market, Mr. Costa's charcuterie outsells his fresh meats, which include chicken, pork and beef. Ironically, best-selling charcuterie includes items not made from pork such as the ruby-hued duck speck prosciutto or the dirty martini lamb salami with juniper, ginger and cinnamon.
Another favorite is the Moroccan lamb coppa, a finalist for the 2013 Good Food Awards, an artisan food competition with an A-list judging panel assembled by founder and Alice Waters acolyte Sarah Weiner and Slow Food Nation producer Dominic Phillips.
For Market District, he's also making beef bresaola, limoncello salami and a second salami with ginger, fennel, orange zest and lemongrass.
Regarding his expansion, Mr. Costa is taking what he considers a conservative approach. "I'd rather start small and be consistent," he says. "I don't want to get in over my head."