We are a charmed bunch, food writers. We know this. We get paid to eat at lovely restaurants. But there is a downside to it. We also get paid to eat at unlovely restaurants, just as much, if not more often. We suffer through a lot of food that is bad, and even more so through food that is “fine.” I’m not complaining, because every once in a while we come upon a restaurant that fits right in our wheelhouse. For me, that place is Butcher and the Boar.
No doubt you’ve already heard of the place in the Harmon neighborhood that took over the marble-fronted Walker Foundation and the Buca parking lot. Jack Riebel was wooed by Tim Rooney and his investment gang (Barrio, Bar La Grassa, etc.) to leave The Dakota and try it on his own. What came into being was a shared vision of American craft cooking with an emphasis on smoked and wood-grilled meat and sausage. And bourbon. So yes, my wheelhouse.
But my job isn’t to simply wax on, it’s to provide context for you so that you can decide if Butcher and the Boar fits into your wheelhouse. I know it won’t be the pearl in everyone’s oyster—some ladies won’t dig that smoky campfire smell that gets in their hair, and some gents will be flummoxed by the lack of a burger on the menu. But if you follow me on what I think Riebel’s doing right, you’ll be as happy as a bug in a bourbon bottle.
First of all, while he’s cooking with simple technique (curing, smoking, wood grilling), Riebel has no less an intense eye than those using modern gastronomy. No one can say that as a chef he lacks focus—plates are simple and familiar but honed beyond their modest menu descriptions. The lobster grilled cheese (add the optional egg) delivers hunks of lobster in a swirl of cheese between two faultless pieces of Texas toast with buttery crisp edges. On such a meat-stacked menu, this could be a phone-in dish, a redheaded stepchild, but instead it’s a rich, decadent blonde bombshell. Same with the chicken, yes the chicken, which comes bone-in with a smoky honey chipotle glaze and a house version of ranch dressing (would that all ranch reached this status). A member of my ladies league picked it up with her hands to make sure she got all the tender meat.
Second, Riebel has great ingredients and great cohorts. Peter Botcher is the in-house butcher and meat maven; he’s the man behind the sausage list made with beef, pork, and boar. The inventive takes include a pinto bean–laced chorizo, a snappy footlong in a bun jammed with pickled pepper relish, and a satisfying and slightly sweet 101 bourbon sausage that comes with a fried egg. Charcuterie is almost too refined a word for the butcher’s plate; it would rather be called simply a meat plate. Smooth and biting turkey Braunschweiger (a potted meat from your mom’s generation), wild boar headcheese, and venison summer sausage, paired with cheese and crackers, hit all the right marks. All of these meats are carefully sourced, thoughtfully chosen, and processed in-house.
There’s no doubt this is a meat-centric house, best exemplified by the giant smoked beef long rib meant for two or more people. Could you tuck into the smoky, tobacco-molasses-glazed bone with just the right chew-to-melty-fat ratio all by yourself? Sure, but the point is that you don’t have to. There’s plenty of Southern-inspired sides (grits, sweet potatoes, blackened cauliflower) and a whole list of seafood dishes, including the light and lovely tequila-cured salmon, to round out a meal. So yes, meat is the star, but not in that cavemanish way that makes you leave with the meat sweats.
And, finally, there is bourbon, which is dealt with in similar style. If you are new to the fascination of sipping mash, there is no better place to start. Beyond the smart cocktails that stay true to the craft mantra, tasting flights of more than 60 different bottles group sips by type, such as single barrel, proof of age, and low or high rye. There’s also plenty of great local and international beer, plus a beer garden boasting improbable skyline views.
Top all of this off with a rustic vibe that is masculine without being too manly (think charred barrel walls and copper penny floors) and you get the charming, not-too-serious, good-timing, Cool Hand Luke kind of a place that is Butcher and the Boar. It’s definitely one place in which you don’t have to pay me to eat.
1121 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-238-8888
GETTING THERE, GETTING IN
: Metered street parking and a nearby ramp; valet available. Reservations suggested.
Dinner M–Sa 5 pm–12 am, Su 5–10 pm KIDS: Not really kid-friendly.
High during peak times.
Amex, Discover, MC, Visa ENTRÉE PRICES: $10–$30 S ACCESSIBLE