Even before Butcher & The Boar opened, the one thing that was universally agreed upon was that the restaurant had a bad name.
It wasn’t entirely Butcher & The Boar’s fault that its name was destined to be dragged down by an undertow of similar-sounding compound names around here. When the restaurant in 2012 opened its first location in Minneapolis, it didn’t have to contend with a Butcher & Bee or a Baker & Brewer just over the bridge. (In fact, the new Mount Pleasant restaurant, located on the site of the former Southerly, has been in the works for so long that the latter didn’t even exist when the project was first announced.)
But what’s lost in the good-natured griping about sound-alike names is the reality that Butcher & The Boar is an excellent name indeed, since it instructs patrons exactly what to order. Charcuterie and pork are the restaurant’s definite strong suits, and its lively patio is an ideal setting for enjoying them.
What’s tricky, though, is Butcher & The Boar apparently has higher ambitions, at least if its pricing is any guide. Butcher & The Boar is nightly asking diners to ante up $48 for a just-OK steak and $8 for a side of sour cream-heavy mashed potatoes. It’s a gutsy move in a town where $14.99 buys a steak sandwich blessed by a James Beard Award winner — and that fee includes fries.
Admittedly, if diners are intent on setting up menu vs. menu showdowns, they can find plenty of local examples of meals that are equally, if not more, expensive. Charleston-area residents who eat out on a regular basis are accustomed to check totals that could double as zip codes on this side of the Mississippi. The difference here is the cost doesn’t include any of the extras commonly knitted into dish prices, such as a highly experienced front-of-house staff or attractive dining room.
In short, it seems like Butcher & The Boar wants its guests to spend freely while the restaurant cuts corners. For instance, there are no salt and pepper shakers under the Butcher & The Boar’s roof, so diners who think the mashed potatoes are underseasoned are offered salt in a serving dish. That’s not out of line in a chef-driven small plates restaurant, but it’s tough to defend in the context of a steakhouse. Purists are likely to think the same of the classic rock soundtrack, which grows more conspicuous as the number of occupied tables dwindles.
As for decor, Butcher & The Boar invested at least $3,800 in it, since that’s equal to the number of pennies shellacked atop the front room floor. The main dining room, though, is off-puttingly plain. The laminate flooring, naked tables and unadorned drab olive walls altogether look a tad too much like where hotel guests gather for continental breakfast.
My guess is that none of the above will prove especially significant, since it seems unlikely that Butcher & The Boar will hang on to its fine-dining pretensions in the face of so many people congregating out back and around the foyer bar. Much as a man with a hammer tends to see nails, in the eyes of Mount Pleasanters, spaces with ample seating and a liquor license are drinking destinations.
On that front, it helps that Butcher & The Boar has assembled a terrific bartending crew, led by Charlie Bugarski. Butcher & The Boar prides itself on bourbon, which it offers in a pair of three-label flights for $18 apiece. Yet it’s far better to entrust the pros to put the signature ingredient to work, even if it’s just mixed into a shimmering and commanding Manhattan. Engaging conversation is optional, but always available.
Butcher & The Boar’s menu still bears scars from the Midwestern branding iron that the company’s opening chef, Jack Riebel, no doubt applied to it. There’s wild rice with the duck breast and creamy Butterkase cheese in the estimable sausage croquettes, fried brown as beaver fur.
And while none of the Great Lakes-adjacent states can or will claim credit for nearly raw jalapeños stuffed with sweetened peanut butter and decorated with yellow raisins, I’d betcha you could find something like it in a Minnesota community cookbook. Maybe wait until you do before trying them.
Yet it would still be a stretch to describe Butcher & The Boar as any kind of regional restaurant, despite the snapper ceviche and peel-and-eat shrimp appended to the menu in honor of the company’s Lowcountry expansion. If the kitchen has a unifying principle, it’s the Old Hickory brand smoker.
That’s the point of departure for a stupendous pork chop, the highlight of an entrée section that also includes the standard country club array of steaks, halibut and crab legs. Servers will tell you otherwise, steering you toward the $49 long rib, glossed with enough molasses to glint off every guest’s eye as it’s ferried through the dining room. It’s sight better looking than, say, the filet, seated in a dark puddle of salty steak sauce.
But what’s good for the eye isn’t always good for the palate. The sugar-cured beef rib is dessert-level sweet, and no mere frizzled Brussels sprout can beckon it back to the savory side, even if the greens are doused with so much hot sauce that servers issue a warning before agreeing to fire an order.
By contrast, the hefty double-cut chop tastes purely of meat and smoke wound together. There’s nothing wacky on the plate to distract from the quality of the pork or its preparation. The pureed sweet potato, dotted with confetti-sized bits of Fresno pepper, and streak of peanuts presented in accompaniment are among the oldest and best of domestic pork’s friends. Along those same traditional lines, the silken corn bisque is terrific.
The smoker is also responsible for the sausages, which cost $10 each and happen to pair winningly with beer or a bourbon drink. Ignore the novelty items, such as a pork sausage studded with not-quite-melted Cheddar and a painfully rich chicken sausage with gravy, and focus on the classics. A harmoniously seasoned chorizo, surrounded by chicharron chips and hominy, and beef link served with barbecue sauce both sport snappy casings.
Still, the best of the lot is the wild boar hot link, blackened in spots and vitalized by a vinegary Minnesota version of giardiniera. Butchered boar at Butcher & The Boar? It’s astounding to see what a restaurant can do when it sticks to its game plan.