Jack Reibel and I used to be chefs at two different restaurants owned by the same company. He ran the kitchen at the very French restaurant La Belle Vie in Stillwater, and I helmed what was then the very hot Spanish place Solera in downtown Minneapolis, an arrangement that essentially made us friendly competitors. Once, I recall, he came to Solera for an all-staff meeting. I was running late on my prep, and so we talked as I put together a butter sauce. He asked me if I knew the trick to making a perfect butter sauce that never broke during service. When I said I didn’t and pressed him to tell me, he raised his voice a few decibels, watching my line cooks crane their necks to hear the answer. “Spot-on technique, that’s all,” he boomed. “You just have to have perfect technique!”
Perfect or not, Reibel is now putting his own technique to the test at the newly opened Butcher & the Boar in Minneapolis. It’s the first restaurant Reibel has started from scratch and the first where he has an ownership stake. He’s run some of the finest restaurants in town—at Goodfellows he acted as sous-chef; at La Belle Vie he ran the kitchen for chef/owner Tim McKee; and at Dakota Jazz Club he inherited a restaurant built by the previous longtime chef, Ken Goff—but Butcher & the Boar is his most personally invested endeavor to date.
The restaurant is split into three areas: a long bar, a dining room with an open kitchen, and an outdoor patio, larger than both the bar and dining room combined. The casual environment is accented with nods to Americana. Chefs don the paper hats of bygone-era butchers and diner-counter workers. Thomas Edison-style light bulbs, with incandescent wires glowing inside clear bulbs, illuminate the weathered wood-and-iron furniture.
American cooking technique pervades the cuisine and culture at the newly opened restaurant. Bourbon whiskey is the house specialty, and meat—cured, smoked, grilled, or otherwise—is king. Look through the menu, and you’ll find flavor-forward dishes, the types of foods European immigrants developed, using all parts of the animal, and cooked in kitchens that relied on smoking and brining for preservation, rather than refrigeration: a pickle plate complete with pickled eggs, shellfish booyah—the traditional Wisconsin stew—cornbread gravy, cowboy beans, and a list of American tap beers far too large to list here.
On all three of my visits to Butcher & the Boar, cooks and industry folk filtered into the restaurant. They lined the sides of the open kitchen, talked shop with Reibel and the other chefs, and sampled bits of sausage and other meats off the grill. Cooks love Reibel and his bold flavors and interpretations of classic dishes—like his beef long rib, blackened and shrouded in Tabasco-molasses BBQ sauce; and the lobster grilled cheese with fried egg, a riff on the classic croque madame, a sandwich thick with mornay sauce.
Sausage and cured meats occupy more than a quarter of the menu. Wild-boar sausages hang on hooks above the grill during service, warming and picking up smoke. Pickles and small sides garnish most choices. Production chef Peter Botcher, who is predominantly responsible for the restaurant’s sausage and cured meats, makes a great head cheese, tightly packed with minimal gelatin, excepting a thick layer of dark aspic lining the top of the terrine. The pork-and-cheddar sausage and the footlong hot dog make for a perfect meal, too, especially paired with a beer. Order the sausage and cured meats individually instead of the tempting sample platters, though: I found they lacked freshness and snap, and they reminded me of my line-cooking days, when sample platters often got the leftover bits that were too small to be otherwise saved or served.
The pastry menu seems to be have been a last-minute addition. Compare the main menu and the pastry menu, in fact, and you will see a disparity in content and descriptive adjectives used. It’s a common problem with restaurant openings: somehow, dessert menus always seem to find their way to the bottom of the to-do list. Chef Sara Botcher (Peter’s wife) has done a nice job in a difficult spot, as an 11th-hour addition to the team—the bright-green grasshopper pie and ginger-snap banana pudding make for a sweet finish to the meal. The s’mores need refinement, however: the house-made graham crackers arrived stale, and chocolate was in short supply. Is it even possible to transfer the awesomeness of s’mores toasted over a campfire to a restaurant dining room? I’m not so sure, though many have tried.
Make sure to try the bourbon. Bar manager Jerald Hansen has assembled a massive list of the Kentucky whiskeys. While many diners will find straight whiskey a bit bracing, the selection here offers an education in variety. Typically, I prefer a full drink to a drink-flight sampler. I find sipping from glasses on designated trays to be too much clutter. However, the bourbon flight list offers enough education to make samplers worth the effort. Hansen pairs them in styles I never knew existed: high rye, low rye, wheated, small-batch production blended from less than 300 hundred barrels, aged bourbons, high-proof bourbons (that’s the strong stuff!), and single-barrel. Yes, my expertise is growing. And no, I didn’t try them all on a single visit.
The menu feels fresh and exciting—even a little challenging. At first glance, it looks like a wall of words. Items are arranged in confusing groupings, which puts a certain amount of pressure on the wait-staff to “manage” the meal in ways not often associated with casual dining. On one of my visits, my guests and I put in an order too large to fit on the table. The server smartly split it into two courses and sent them out to our table separately.
Here’s another story and Reibel quote that could easily become a slogan for Butcher & the Boar. In 2004, I worked a fundraising party with Reibel and other local chefs at the Minneapolis Hyatt. Each chef, representing different restaurants, brought a course to be prepared for the dinner. As Reibel’s turn to cook approached, the other chefs and I huddled around a long serving table waiting to help him plate. He pushed his way through the group with a fully loaded tray of food in hand, and, letting us know that the best dish of the night was yet to come, barked out, “Turn on the lights, boys, you’re going to want to see this!”
I’d say the same for Butcher & the Boar.
Chef Jack Reibel brings his character to Butcher & the Boar, a bourbon bar and meat-lover’s delight.
Ideal Meal: The “preserved” shrimp cocktail or pickled beef heart Marcella (Reibel’s grandma’s recipe), the double-cut Berkshire pork chop, and a bourbon. Tip: The beer garden is sure to be a downtown hotspot this summer. Hours: Sun., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.; Mon.–Sat., 5 p.m.–12 a.m. Prices: Main courses (to be shared) average $30. Address: Butcher & the Boar, 1121 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-238-8888, butcherandtheboar.com