From the moment you step inside the restaurant, you know you’re somewhere deliciously boar-ish (not boorish). The masculine eclectic décor is inviting — the long, polished bar heavy with bourbon encourages you to linger while the links of house-made sausages hanging from the rafters tempt you. Wide wood planked communal tables share space with noble red upholstered high-back chairs, and the floor is literally lined with thousands of shimmering copper pennies. The outdoor beer garden includes a roaring fireplace and tables made from oak wine barrels and massive tree trunks. It’s a man’s man kind of restaurant. But that didn’t stop this West Coast gal from having a thoroughly enjoyable time.
I recently attended a multi-course at Butcher and The Boar, sponsored by The National Pork Board, and I have to say it was one of the best meals I’ve had in quite some time. While the restaurant’s menu offers a wide variety of meats, our dinner specialized in pork dishes.
Peter Botcher, the restaurant’s butcher, spoke briefly with us. He explained that he and his culinary team make in-house artisanal sausages and smoked meats employing traditional German methods. And locals, whether German or not, are eating it up. According to Botcher, the restaurant serves an average of 500 people a day and up to 900 people a day during the summer months. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate,” he says. And I’m fortunate to have eaten there. Here’s some of what we enjoyed during our dinner:
Salads came in different weight classes including a lightweight arugula, watermelon, and goat cheese combo and a heavy-weight wedge salad bathed in a decadent blue cheese dressing and dotted with crumbled smoked pecans. I didn’t want to use up too many calories on salad, so I opted for the pork cheek, bacon, and onion skewers served over pickled corn. Biting into the medallion of lightly charred pork revealed a pale pink, juicy interior that all but melted in my mouth. One of my dining companions noted: “I didn’t know pork cheeks could taste this good.”
Two stellar sausage dishes followed: A crisp, zesty, cheddar-laced Berkshire sausage link served with blackened broccoli that could convert even the purist vegetarian. I declared it my favorite dish until I tasted its companion: A spiral of dark green chili chorizo sausage hugging a soft-cooked egg atop a spicy black bean mole. Its initial mildness is chased by a distinct punch of heat. So, be warned.
The main courses, served family-style, made one of the diners declare, “I feel like it’s Thanksgiving dinner but with pork!” I agreed. Check it out: Muscular mustard-grilled pork chops were surprisingly tender and robustly flavored, but don’t even think of ordering them without a side of fried green tomatoes doused with herb-buttermilk dressing.
The unanimous favorite dish was the roasted pork loin with apple cider sauce, sour cherries, and pecans. Imagine the best Easter ham you’ve ever eaten, but better — less salty, more complex. It paired beautifully with a medley of woodsy cedar-planked mushrooms and smoky blackened cauliflower with a preserved lemon pan sauce.
The only dish that disappointed me and just above everyone else at the table was the chicken-fried pork with sausage gravy. The too-thick, greasy batter overwhelmed the pork’s flavor, while the sauce tasted distinctly of canned soup.
So we comforted ourselves with two more sides instead: Coal-fired sweet potatoes crowned with a maple-pecan butter and crunchy pecan nibs and a dense, impossibly moist skillet corn bread with maple butter so good that I wanted to pop it inside of my handbag to enjoy as a midnight snack later in the hotel room. I didn’t take it. Though now that I’m writing this sentence, I’m regretting my ethical decision. Corn bread that good warrants moral indiscretions.
Despite its appealing name, the ginger snap banana pudding with torched meringue was disappointing. It was a one-note confection that would have benefitted from more ginger and snap. If it were up to me, I would have just ordered another skillet corn bread along with a sweet, malty stout. That’s dessert-y enough for me.
Photo credits: Top three photos, Susan Russo ; remaining photos, Jan Jorgensen, The National Pork Board