The Butcher & the Boar has been on my must-try list for a few months and with only one dinner in Minneapolis for this visit I decided to pull the trigger and make a reservation. Coincidentally, the James Beard Foundation announced its 2013 nominees that day and the Butcher & the Boar was nominated for Best Restaurant. Call it Karma, call it divine intervention or call it pure dumb luck, I call it a sign from the culinary forces that I made the correct choice.
Driving through artic conditions of 5-degrees plus a stiff wind I was grateful when I arrived at 12th and Hennepin and saw valet parking on the side of the building, only accessible from 12th Street. Upon entering you are greeted by an enormous bar spanning the left wall, serving thirty beers on tap, a wide variety of wines plus an assortment of blended cocktails, with various cute names. There are a few tables to the left of the bar, sort of tucked away from the main action; some would say these are either the B-list tables or the quiet tables. I think these are a good choice for some quiet conversation. There is a single large table tucked into an alcove across from the bar on the way to the main dining area, which is large and open. The interior is very cool.
The menu is broken into appetizers and salads, in-house prepared meats, plus entrées of meats, poultry and seafood. A separate menu of sides completes the options.
I ordered the “Turkey Brunschweiger, Vidalia Onion Jam and Milk Stout Toast” for an appetizer, the “Double Cut Berkshire Pork Chop with Pineapple Rum Glaze, Macadamia Nut Salsa” as an entrée plus the “Skillet Cornbread.” All of these were recommended by the server, who was spot on in her knowledge and guided me through the menu and the sheer volume of food it represented, “these dishes are normally split” was her challenge.
The appetizer arrived quickly. I was first impressed with the small glass jar that contained the turkey liver mousse, there was a small layer of fat on top, a great way to preserve as well as deliver added flavor, the Vidalia onion jam was neatly placed on the plate and the milk stout toasts arrived in a small, rectangular bowl. A small spoon protruded from the Brunschweiger and my first taste informed me that the night would produce some special flavors. It had an incredibly deep flavor, liver on overdrive, absolutely delicious. Placing a small amount on the toast and then topped with just a touch of the onion jam created an extraordinary balance of flavors and textures. The smooth, richness of the mousse, the sweet jam and the slight bitterness of the toast perfectly complemented each other. Now the fun began as I played with various combinations. I found that placing the jam on the toast and then the jam gave a slightly different flavor profile and then placing the two toppings side-by-side implanted even a slightly different flavor profile. The one consistent feature was that each bite was fantastic.
When the pork chop arrived I sat in awe. This was the largest pork chop that has ever graced my plate. It was 3-4” in height, sitting proudly in the pineapple sauce, with the nut salsa perched on top. The size would rival any NY steak house. I carefully sliced the longer arced side so my first taste would contain both meat and just a touch of fat. The meat was incredibly moist, served medium, slightly pink throughout, and the texture was perfect. The first bite confirmed my thought from the appetizer; the flavors for the evening would be extraordinary. This was an incredible piece of meat, first brined, so the saltiness was evident, but smokiness was the primary flavor; and this was Berkshire pork, known for juiciness, fat content and fully capable of handling the long and slow cooking processes. The sweetness of the pineapple rum glace was a perfect complement to the salty-smokiness of the pork, Texas meets Hawaii. As much as the Macadamia nut salsa delivered great flavor contrast, the soft texture of the Macadamias was not to my liking, I would have preferred more crunchiness.
The skillet cornbread was nothing special; in fact mine was a little burnt on the bottom. The flavor was basic, there was no textural contrast (I prefer the inclusion of corn kernels) and the depth of flavor was not present. If not for the addition of butter, I would classify the cornbread as dry. With the other choices available I would recommend going in a different direction on the side.
Service was excellent. My server knew the menu, was willing to make recommendations, understood the size of the dishes and guided me to a more reasonable order. The one major drawback was the pacing. I am not sure if this was caused by my dining solo, but the appetizer arrived within minutes after the order was placed and the entrée arrived within one minute of my finishing the appetizer. I felt incredibly rushed. There was no time for relaxing, digesting or just contemplating. I prefer a 5-10 minute interlude as a single and 15 minutes as a couple or group. Hopefully this was the exception, not the rule.
Overall the two main components of the meal were outstanding. The appetizer was extraordinary and the pork and sauce were perfect, but given the salsa, cornbread and the pacing, there is still room for improvement.