By now, vintage-industrial decor and Old World sincerity are no longer at the vanguard of restaurant trendsetting. From Brooklyn, New York, to Portland, Oregon, the rustic-plush concept appeals to millennials eager to support local farmers, scratch cooking and in-house butchery programs.
Cleveland has not been immune to this fever. But if the excitement generated by last summer's touch-and-go opening of Butcher and the Brewer is any indication, perhaps there's no such thing as too much of a good thing. The newest addition to the enclave of East Fourth Street eateries, it was cheered as a meat- and beer-lover's restaurant for a meat- and beer-lover's town.
Thankfully, Butcher and the Brewer dove deeper. The result is an experience at once more authentic and less expected.
Let's start with the broad interpretation of the open-kitchen concept. Located in the lofty former McCrory's department store — which most recently was home to the Dredgers Union boutique — Butcher and the Brewer's wide-open setting offers an unobstructed view of the less-glamorous aspects of dining. Customers can watch butcher Rex Workman labor in his open-air shop. Here he breaks down whole hogs and steers supplied by New Creations Farm every other week into various steaks and chops (price and availability varies), split bones for the smoked bone marrow appetizer ($12) and vats of fat to be rendered and used for frying.
This is truly scratch cooking: transforming raw ingredients over and again until they wind up on your plate.
It's a concept that you'll also find in your beer glass. Partners Jason Workman, Chris Lieb and Jeff Leonard — the trio behind popular gastropub Tremont Tap House — are just as transparent when it comes to the brewing process. All the mystery is unraveled with the help of a grain-to-glass flowchart, a large chalkboard illustration alongside a 10-barrel brewing system designed to please the eye and satisfy the curious.
"I engineered the entire brew house, customized literally everything," says Eric Anderson, the master brewer behind the playful and inventive bar offerings such as the clove- and banana-forward HasselHefe wheat ale ($6.50 for 20 ounces) or the citrusy Stop Hop Kaboom ($6.50 per pint), an American IPA.
His toils translate to about 10 to 15 house brews on tap. Two or three times a week, diners can watch Anderson in action, slashing open 50-pound bags of French malt and feeding the grains into a small mill or checking the temperature of kettles in various stages of brewing.
Yet the least outwardly apparent dismissal of "business as usual" is in the details of a dinner service gone topsy-turvy. Intimate seating is forgone in favor of long tables that fit around 16 people. Strangers rub elbows, and it's sometimes necessary to shout to be heard just across the table. Butcher and the Brewer is a decidedly modern take on a traditional beer hall.
"Think of it as family-style light," says executive chef Jim Blevins, who has previously worked at Lola and Downtown 140. "If we were in Chicago or Seattle — any major city that has several restaurant concepts like that — we'd be just another restaurant. Where here, we're something vastly, vastly different."
Though there are upward of four dozen items to choose from, somehow the menu still appears well-curated, with surprising twists around every corner and a focus on aesthetics. For instance, a colorful plate of crispy calamari ($12) bucks expectations with pickled vegetables, spicy-sweet chili oil and creamy lemon aioli. A plate of bacon and eggs ($12) — actually a thick slice of brioche, crispy and melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and a poached egg — comes stacked high. And the smoked Arctic char ($15) with a potato pancake, watercress and creme
fraiche, elicited more than one comment from nearby diners based on looks alone.
The menu roughly resembles many others, but the system at Butcher and the Brewer is what lends its slightly unfamiliar feel.
Pick a few things from the hefty selection of small and medium plates that includes fish, meat, vegetable and flatbread options, as well as a section for oysters, cheese and charcuterie. Food comes to the table when it's ready, not all at once, along with a few extra plates for sharing.
Servers make a point to explain this unconventional style of service (similar to Japanese izakaya or Spanish tapas), but it inevitably surprises a few diners here and there.
Blevins, who came on about five months prior to the restaurant's Aug. 18 opening, admits to a certain degree of uncertainty and misunderstanding on the part of local diners. "We don't do entrees and sides," he explains. "We want people to share."
But while this approach means more excitement for couples and groups of friends, it does cause some level of discomfort for less intimate parties, such as business acquaintances who typically want their own dishes and want them to arrive at the table together. In such cases, the house steaks are good choices, Blevins says, as they're not as easy to share anyway. Another potential pitfall of this method is a sometimes-awkward gap between dishes, which can interrupt the normal flow of a shared meal, or the opposite problem when more food arrives at once than can be consumed before losing its heat.
Sure, there are kinks to be worked out but Butcher and the Brewer plans to continue pushing the culinary envelope.
When You Go
Master brewer Eric Anderson of the Butcher & the Brewer pairs some of executive chef Jim Blevin's favorite menu items with his own house brews for a just-right night out.
Tempura Cauliflower ($8) with the Repeater German-style Kolsch ($5.50)
A house favorite, the light and crispy fried cauliflower is accompanied with a spicy curry mayonnaise good enough to eat with a spoon. Paired with the Repeater, "the subtle noble hop nose balances out the slight curry spice, while the soft, bready malt balances out the batter on the cauliflower," says Anderson.
Carolina Shrimp and Grits ($16) with Bravo Co. Session IPA ($6)
Fresh Carolina shrimp meet creamy, cheddar grits topped with house-made bacon, scallions and a poached egg. Eat it with a pint of Bravo Co. In addition to the natural marriage of sharp cheddar and zesty hops, this beer's "firm, citrusy hop bitterness will cut through the bacon fat and silky egg yolk," Anderson advises.
Bacon and Eggs ($12) with Classified Milk Porter ($6)
This ain't your greasy spoon classic. Seared pork belly and a poached egg tops grilled brioche. Each salty, melt-in-your mouth bite is complimented by three sauces: rich, nutty brown butter bearnaise, a slightly sweet apple cider reduction and a light and herby basil oil. "In this case, we're not going for matching flavors," says Anderson of his recommended beer pairing, "but complimentary ones." Try it with the milk porter — rich chocolate and roasted coffee notes complete the morning mashup.
Smoked Lamb Ribs ($15) with Quad Workout Belgian-style Dark Strong Ale ($8.50)
Smoked over the kitchen's coal-fired Josper oven, the lamb ribs take a global approach to a barbecue favorite with jerk sauce, mango chutney and chile oil. "Stone fruit, fig and plum notes from the strong ale compliment the smoky and tropical fruit undertones of the ribs," says Anderson. "Also, since the ribs are spicy and hearty, it takes a big beer to stand up to all of the flavor."
Black Pepper Tofu ($12) with Stop Hop Kaboom American IPA ($6.50)
Butcher & the Brewer may put meat in its own name, but it doesn't forget about vegetarians. Cleveland tofu is served up with tons of flavor thanks to sweet and spicy Fresno chiles, shallots, scallions, soy and fresh ginger. "Traditional beer and food pairing puts heat and hops together," says Anderson. "The intense citrus and resinous nature of the beer will cut right through the heat of the tofu and balance the palate."