7-22-16 / Butcher and the Rye / Pittsburgh, PA

While waiting for the Music of David Bowie with the Pittsburgh Symphony  to start at Heinz Hall, my wife and I realized we’d yet to make dinner plans, so I quickly called across the street to Butcher and the Rye and made some late-night reservations. I’d never been there before, but my wife had, and she’d greatly enjoyed the few small plates she’d sampled. In my two previous trips to Meat and Potatoes, I’d left feeling disappointed in the ambiance, food quality, and variety of their menu, so I hadn’t really placed their sister restaurant Butcher and the Rye that high up on my list. That turned out to be a great mistake, as the drinks and dishes we enjoyed were overall excellent, unique, and delicious.

Our affinity for cocktails tend to run quite parallel (sour, sweet, gin, honey, lemon) so we were quite happy to see very similar cocktail offerings. On the left is the Bee’s Knees (Hendrick’s Gin, Lemon, and Honey) a perfectly light, crisp, and refreshing drink with bright acidity and a sweet finish. On the right is the Vesper (Belvedere Vodka, Beefeater Gin, Cocchi Americano [an apertif wine similar to Kina Lillet], and Angostura Bitters). Definitely stronger and more full bodied, the Vesper was a great pre-meal drink, opening up the palate with the Cocchi Americano and sharp bitters.

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We ordered the charcuterie board and I wasn’t positive on the bread situation, so I decided to order the rustic bread as well. It came with a wonderful black pepper and sage lardo, a melted pig fat butter to spread on the fresh, hot, crispy bread. The bread came pre-sliced which was greatly appreciated, especially in a sharing situation. The misstep came in the form of the “pan gravy”, a small saucer of chicken gravy topped generously with black pepper. Unfortunately the saucer itself didn’t retain heat very well and even on the sweltering summer night, the gravy soon found itself approaching room temperature, which as everyone knows, does not a good gravy make. We had to abandon it soon after it was delivered, as a cold gravy is very unpalatable. The bread was generously slathered with the lardon and used to further enjoy the generous charcuterie platter, but the gravy sat alone on the bench, abandoned and forgotten.

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The charcuterie platter was excellent, with some very unique standouts. The pork terrine was studded with large chunks of pistachio and was surprisingly light for how heavy and dense it looked. The two lovely cuts of cured pork, the bresaola and prosciutto were feather light and buttery, salty and smooth. The duck salumi on the top right of the board was heavy and dense, earthy with a heavy mouthful begging for an acidic bite from the amazing vegetable offerings.

The house-pickled vegetables at the bottom left, top right, and top middle of the board were all incredibly unique and vibrant. The pickled onions were far more sweet than salty or tart. The pickled peppers were roasted and pickled, soft and earthy on the inside with a crunchy vegetal skin. The cauliflower was less Italian and more Greek in its just barely-there pickle, softness, and earthiness. The cornichon pickles were sharp and sweet, crunchy, and cut through the fatty meats like a hot knife through fatty butter. Speaking of which, the maple lardo was an ingenious replacement for the standard honey, worked incredibly well with the sweet and salty meats and the crispy sourdough slices. Underneath it all were a violet mustardo and figs. A truly excellent charcuterie board.

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The crispy pig “wing” was an amazing feat of technical ingenuity and creativity. A large pork rib, trimmed, seasoned, coated, and deep fried, then tossed in a sweet and spicy thai chili sauce. Served over a pickled mango salad for even more sweetness and topped with chopped peanuts and cilantro. The pork was perfectly roasted and then fried to a deep golden brown crisp, with a coating that clung to every bite of tender and succulent pork meat. The pickled salad was a nice light element in a dish that was heavy with fatty pork meat and deep fried coating. The best part of ribs and chicken wings, forced together by a mad genius back in the kitchen, this was one of my favorite bites of the night.

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I still had a strong craving to revisit the shishito peppers we enjoyed at Carnevino  and I was left unsatisfied with those from Mezzo, so I decided to try again here. I am so glad that I did. Huge, fresh Shishito peppers (even bigger than those in Las Vegas) were grilled to perfection to provide a smokey, tart, spicy bite with a wonderfully deep and earthy pepper flavor throughout. Topped with cilantro, lime, slices of radish, miso salt, and sesame seeds, the peppers provided that powerful foundation to an excellent vegetable snack. Pools of sriracha mayo lined the bottom, allowing even more creamy spice to be added to the deep smoke of the grill and bite of some of the peppers. The tartness from the radish, cilantro, and lime all worked to pull this dish back from the border of richness it was flirting with. More bar snack than vegetable side dish, I was so glad I took the risk again and would gladly order these every time I returned.

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In a surprise twist of the night, the waitress misread her own handwriting (“cauliflower” for the “candy” in “pig candy”) so we ended up with this dish in addition to what we’d already ordered. Not something I would have normally ordered on my own, this again was more of a vegetarian main dish than a small plate/side as described. Roasted cauliflower, heavy with middle eastern spices, tossed with roasted farro, romanesco, baby carrots, and pine nuts in a brown butter and tomato sauce. Served between to heavy dollops of harissa infused greek yogurt, this was something I’d far more expect on a winter menu than a summer menu. It was far too dense and heavy, too warm, too deep in its earthiness for the stifling humidity of the night. The coolness of the yogurt was a swimming fin in the ocean of deep roasted vegetables and chewy grains. I think some vibrancy of lemon in the sauce or another acid in addition to the yogurt would have helped convert this dish to at the very least late-winter, rather than the stick-to-your-vegetarian-ribs stew quality of it all. Delicious overall, but for something we didn’t order in the first place, I wish it hadn’t come to us at all.

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The aforementioned “pig candy”, a dish my wife remembered fondly from a previous visit, was a nice salute to the pork belly madness currently sweeping the nation. Far sweeter than the standard braised belly, this was coated in a miso caramel, cilantro and radish, and served over a bed of an extremely mild apple kim chi. The pork of course was extremely sweet and made even sweeter by the caramel sauce and glaze upon the pork itself. This was far more of a dessert than an entree, so far as pork can be a dessert. I wish the apple kim chi had more spice to it, more funk, more of a counterbalance to the caramel and pork, but it turned into one big delicious caramel apple and pork, A to B to C dish that worked altogether very well in small amounts, but could never grow up and be an entree.

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Along with the pork, we enjoyed the Mac and Cheese (a perennial favorite choice of my wife’s). This take was made with shells, enrobed in a velvety taleggio, fontina, cheddar, parmesan, and goat cheese sauce, tossed with and topped with baked bread crumbs served in an all-clad pot. Ridiculously rich and creamy, it was a wonderful, heavy as a brick, pasta dish. I could only do so much of the thick cheese and shells, but that’s why you get married. It’s called teamwork. It makes the dream work.

 

I am very excited to make a return visit to Butcher and the Rye and try some of their larger plates (these were all small plates). I’m equally excited for whatever changes they make to their menu (whether for seasonal reasons or otherwise). Whatever the changes, even if there are none, I’m certain a follow-up meal will be excellent. With the ridiculously good tako and upcoming opening of Pork and Beans downtown, I’m very optimistic about the future of the Richard DeShantz restaurant group. Who knows, maybe it’s even time to revisit Meat and Potatoes?

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