Winemaker and Restaurateur André Mack Is Betting on the Home Team with an All-American Ham Bar in Brooklyn

Plus ham and wine pairings and two stand-out recipes for meat lovers.

André Mack and his four sons at his Brooklyn ham bar, & Sons
Photo: Alex Lau

It started with a meat slicer.

More accurately, a candy-red, nickel-plated, vintage, "Ferrari-esque" deli slicer that André Mack first laid eyes upon behind the counter at the Manhattan trattoria Lupa. A similar model—lovingly called Kimbo Slice, after the famed Bahamian boxer—now lives in the Brooklyn home that Mack shares with his wife, writer Phoebe Damrosch, and their four sons. Mack, 49, is a carnivorous polymath with a penchant for history; in addition to producing award-winning wines under the label Maison Noir Wines, he owns six businesses in his neighborhood, including a taco joint, a bakery, and & Sons, a ham bar committed to highlighting the unsung heroes of American wine and charcuterie. As soon as you enter the judiciously furnished space, it's impossible to ignore Mack's passion for storytelling. There are Japanese milk glass lamps from the now-defunct Benjamin Electric Company, wrought-iron rat de cave ("cellar rat") candleholders from Burgundy, and a vintage kelly green meat slicer—one of the six in his growing collection—from The Computing Scale Company in Dayton, Ohio.

On the wall, the felt-board menu features 10 country hams, identified simply by state and producer. "Everyone who works here has their favorites, and we always have a conversation with guests," Mack explains, acknowledging the general public's lack of familiarity with American cured meats relative to Italian stalwarts like salami or mortadella. When asked about his favorite, he gravitates toward an "umami, complex, and aged" offering from Kentucky-based Dakota Farms Ham, which pairs perfectly with an acidic natural Mourvèdre from California. For Ibérico lovers, he quickly suggests the Lady Edison, a dry-cured, unsmoked ham from North Carolina; prosciutto devotees might enjoy the delicate, nutty New York–made Casella's.

But Mack isn't on a crusade to beat the Italians at the curing game; he feels American offerings have belonged on the table all along. "This whole notion of opening a ham bar started when I realized we'd been curing hams for over 100 years," he says. "When we were a new nation and Thomas Jefferson went to go meet the king of France, he brought a Virginia ham." In 2017, when Mack signed the lease for & Sons, country ham was mainly served in thick slices with red-eye gravy and coffee. In 2010, at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, David Chang was serving country hams from Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Tennessee and Edwards Virginia Smokehouse (also served at & Sons) on a country ham plate, but when & Sons opened in late 2019, the domestic ham landscape was still foreign territory, oddly enough, for U.S. consumers. After an exchange with a hog-farmer friend from Ohio who disclosed that much of his herd was exported to Italy and turned into prosciutto there to keep pace with international demand, Mack knew it was time for & Sons to give American ham the spotlight it deserved.

Despite having opened in the months directly preceding New York City's pandemic lockdown, & Sons has established itself as a pillar of Brooklyn's Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a neighborhood that Mack says is changing before his very eyes. "We don't take reservations because I want to be fair to my neighbors," he explains, noting that on any given night, his bar might be filled with guests who have traveled from out of town to spend $3,000 on ham and wine, as well as his landlord, who happens to be a neighbor. On the menu, which changes often, the ham takes many forms, sometimes thinly sliced with eggs and hollandaise, sometimes stuffed into chicken wings as chorizo, sometimes braised alongside pears and pickled onions.

In addition to pushing the boundaries of cooking with ham-makers' products, Mack is a steward of their stories. He describes an incident from early last year that exemplifies just how much this role can mean: "A woman called my office and explained that her husband loved country ham and used to buy and age it. She said, 'He cut out all these news clippings about you and your place ... He recently passed away, and he wanted you to have all of the hams he'd been aging,'" Mack recounts, as several employees in his office turn to nod along, remembering the call. "I started crying, and she started crying. I got the delivery of hams—I'm still trying to figure out what to use them for—and I realized there's more to this than just pouring wine and serving food here," he says. "I'm just, like, some guy in Brooklyn, right? But something like this means a lot."

Ham and Wine Pairings

While the wine list at & Sons changes periodically, it always focuses on American producers, with wines from Mendocino in California to New York's Finger Lakes. "When I'm looking at pairing wine with ham, I make sure to match light flavors with light flavors," Mack says. "With something like Benton's or a ham that is heavily smoked, I try to stay away from wines that are too oaky because that only accentuates the smoke. These are thin slices of ham that are powerful in flavor. For us, the rule of thumb is to lean toward medium-bodied, acidic wines." Here are Mack's favorite American wines to pair with American hams.

Wines to pair with ham
Alex Lau

1. 2015 Caraccioli Cellars Brut Cuvée ($52)

"This Chardonnay-dominant sparkling wine from the Saint Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, California, provides a textural pairing, offering layers of toasted cream, honey, and lemon."

2. 1991 Ridge Vineyards Paso Robles Zinfandel ($151)

"I find that all of Ridge Vineyards' wines, from the top-tier cuvées all the way down to entry-level ones, are ageworthy gems that stand out as some of the shining stars of American winemaking."

3. 2020 Maison Noir WinesNew Noir ($25)

"This is 50% Gewürztraminer and 28% Pinot Gris with three other grapes playing small supporting roles. New Noir has the complexity of red wines, thanks to extended skin contact, along with the refreshing aspect of white wines."

4. 2020 Turley Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault ($29)

"Cinsault, a traditional grape from the Rhône Valley, offers a unique combination of flavors that recalls high-acid Pinot Noir with the spice of Syrah. I find it complements some of our smokier hams."


01 of 03

Soft-Cooked Eggs with Hollandaise and Ham

Soft-Cooked Eggs with Hollandaise and Ham
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Thom Driver

The salty ham complements golden, jammy egg yolks and a simple hollandaise, showcasing the excellence of each ingredient in this classic dish; any thinly sliced ham will do nicely.

02 of 03

Pork Cheeks with Pickled Onions, Mustard Seeds, and Daikon

Pork Cheeks with Pickled Onions, Mustard Seeds and Daikon
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Thom Driver

A wet brine in the refrigerator followed by an hour in the pressure cooker renders tender, juicy, perfectly cooked pork cheeks. The fresh tang and pleasant crunch from pickled onions and mustard seeds help balance the unctuous and hearty meat. Keep an eye on the jus as it cooks to ensure it doesn't over-reduce; as it thickens, the bubbling will slow.

03 of 03

White Asparagus Soup with Pickled Ramps and Hazelnuts

White Asparagus Soup with Pickled Ramps and Hazelnuts
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Thom Driver

André Mack's silky white asparagus soup is buttery and creamy with a mild sweetness from the asparagus and a touch of acidity from the pickled ramps that brightens the entire dish. Roasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil lend a deliciously nutty body to the soup and make a beautiful garnish. If ramps are out of season, spring onions make a good substitute here.

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