The way Butcher and the Boar has been holding onto our attention, you’d think head chef Jack Riebel had been caught twerking on people. Rather, this homely Hennepin Ave. superstar has spent the last 18 months or so proving we can still obsess over good things once in a while. And why would I stop talking about this place? Why would anyone?
Since my compadre Ducky and I first came back in February, Butcher and the Boar has hogged headlines with awesome consistency. The beer garden stays hopping, no pun intended. They’re at the market slingin’ sausages and hosting cooking classes. This fall, Riebel is helping start a new restaurant and the slobbering has already begun.
Yet, for all the crawdad guts we’ve spilled on the bar counter and the bones we’ve marooned on our plates, the first night is still the most magical. The night I had the grilled cheese.
The basics: Butcher sits in the Loring Park area of Minneapolis. A good food reviewer describes menus in scintillating detail, but it’s a boring read and the menu is posted online. Here, look. Also impressive is their tap list. They have been open since March 2012. Butcher and Riebel were semifinalists for James Beard awards this year. Reservations aren’t required, but you’ll want to make one if you come at peak hours.
Ducky and I maneuvered through battering winds and blowing snow into Minneapolis for our 8:30 p.m. reservation. We found a parking spot, and my first win of the night came when Ducky pointed at the parking meter and yelled “You’re up, Frank!”
Parking meters had turned off two hours ago.
I sauntered into the restaurant in my wool coat and scarf with my man-date hugging himself in a windbreaker fleece behind me while his feet pitter-pattered across the asphalt (The Weather Channel has a website, people, look at it once in a while). Our table was waiting for us.
Beers were first. Ducky ordered a Left Hand Milk Stout and I talked myself into Surly’s new Pentagram beer. As the waiter described it to me, it sounded worse, and worse … and worse … and worse … until he called it “almost the opposite of an IPA.” That’s it, I’m in! And then it came.
I should have stayed out.
Want a good service practice, check this out: The bartender could see I wasn’t enjoying the beer and insisted he bring me another beer for free. I was going to punish myself for my impudence and he wouldn’t let me. That’s a service staff who cares, really cares. I traded up for a Left Hand of my own and the peasants rejoiced.
I’m a sucker for a dim, mafia-movie lighting and Butcher has this. I’m also a fan of leaving the ceiling beams and tubing exposed, and Butcher does that. One wall reminded me of Fogo de Chao, another reminded me of Vincent A, and another reminded me of a gussied-up Five Guys. The environs don’t add much, but they don’t take anything away. There’s an isolated room with giant mustaches on plaques adorning the walls, but it was full so I didn’t get a good look.
You already know what I ordered. For Ducky, Butcher’s first impression rode on the crab spaghetti. The wait was short; I was still snapping pictures of my sandwich when I heard the first “O-ho, duuuuude.” I looked up and saw Ducky pointing at his dish with his fork. “Phenomenal.”
I squished down a corner of my sandwich, took my first bite, and watched the whole world stop. This sandwich was so good, it was confusing. The taste itself wasn’t unexpected – I mean, I read it on the menu and all – but this … it’s a GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH! Those aren’t supposed to taste this special!
When words fail, I tend to just nod. I’m surprised my neck didn’t break.
During the course of our meal, Ducky only said two things: “Duuuude,” and “Whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho.” Every bite sounded like he was being shot out of a circus cannon. He would slump into his chair, his head would tilt back, and he would regain his composure for another bite. Put this sequence in a different setting and you’ve got another Exorcist movie.
Near the end of our meals, we traded bites. The spaghetti paired minty and spicy flavors together like they were meant to be. If your average spaghetti is a dream come true, this spaghetti is like something out of Inception.
Anyway, back on our own plates, I cleaned the skillet walls with my finger while Ducky used his spoon to scoot every last molecule of spaghetti onto his fork. It’s that real, people.
Of course we had dessert. Gingersnap Banana Pudding for Ducky, Grasshopper Semifreddo for me. The semifreddo was, at its heart, dressed-up mint chocolate chip ice cream – which I much enjoyed. We switched bites at the end, and we were both happy we had ordered what we ordered (I’m just not that into pudding).
Expect a two-bro tab to jump over $60 if you both dive into drinks and desserts. You won’t see these portions on “Man Vs. Food,” but they left us fulfilled for more than just the night. Today on Facebook, Ducky wrote: “I woke up this morning thinking about that spaghetti.”
This is where superb marketing strategies pay off. How are you supposed to get Butcher and the Boar out of your head once you’ve had that first meal, and now you’re hearing about the band in their beer garden, and now their sausages are on the shelves at Byerly’s, and now you’re back in their dining room curious to try something new. If they can do this with a grilled cheese sandwich, what can they do with a steak? If they can do that with spaghetti, what can they do with quail? Just imagine!
Think of the Butcher and the Boar menu as a treasure map, and think of the grilled cheese sandwich as the first few dots toward the X. I don’t know exactly what the X is, but if that sandwich was only the first few dots …