The locally sourced, organic trend that’s at long last gripping large parts of the country and the Lowcountry is not new. It’s been trending hotter than an August Charleston afternoon for the better part of the past three years.
What is new (just four weeks old) is Butcher & Bee and the utter purity with which it approaches its localvore love. Tucked inauspiciously away in a parking lot near Columbus and Upper King Street, everything here, from the artisinal community table to house made everything (including pickles, bread, ketchup, mayonnaise, an organic garden out back, and locally sourced animals purchased whole and broken down in-house) is done the real, old-fashioned, and waste-free way. The Butcher & Bee experience is an exceptional journey back to a time that far too many Americans have forgotten with the haze of fast food and mass-produced processed “food” that has clogged our supermarkets, hearts and palates for far too long.
The brainchild of Owner/Partner Michael Shem-Pov of local Mellow Mushroom fame and Chef/Partner Stuart Tracy, the purely executed concept (even in its very early, opening days) takes a nod from butcher shops and nature. The menu, broadly conceived at the beginning of each week and modified according to what farmers deliver on a daily basis and what sells out sometimes on an hourly basis, is coaxed to understated perfection in the hands of Tracy, who trained at Johnson & Wales and cut his teeth at Palmetto Cafe before finally stretching his chef and entrepreneur legs at his Butcher & Bee baby. While his competence at Palmetto Cafe was always evident, it literally shines here.
Pure is the best word I can find to describe his magnificent fare. Getting there, as Tracy puts it, is all about “control and balance.” So very well put, indeed. It sounds like a simple concept, but it’s the kind of fuss-free, technique-rich execution too many chefs miss with over-manipulated, over made-up, overly-complicated concoctions. The clarity of each flavor and each texture at Butcher & Bee allows the freshness of the food to shine through. That is an art, and one Tracy proudly and passionately brings to the table here.
Sandwiches and vegetarian dishes are staples, but weekends afford a beefy burger (more on that later) and fresh interpretations on egg-centric brunch favorites like “Toad in a Hole” and French toast. Considering that bread makes up about 50% of the essence of a sandwich, Tracy considers it a priority. “You can’t be a sandwich shop and not make the bread,” he says. Indeed, brioche, pita, and assorted breads are made here daily and are sometimes served still warm from the oven – just like Mom (or well, maybe Grandmother) used to make.
This gorgeous, warm side salad (pictured above) was offered on a recent Sunday brunch menu, and is an idyllic edible testimony not just to Tracy’s talent, but his restrained, controlled balance. Roasted, nutty and lightly caramelized Brussel sprouts (likely picked from one of the elevated, organic garden beds out back) are tossed with salty, smoky bacon, layered with crisp, tart/sweet slivers of apple, and anointed with the salty crunch of peanuts. Swirling flavors of vinegary onion confit and a swatch of nutty, browned butter seal the deal ever so sweetly.
But, if the Brussel sprouts spelled “like”, the burger spelled “love”, as in “I wanna’ be Wimpy, now!” kind of love. Perfection, it literally was impossible to resist. The golden hue of the brioche, and the density of the bread, possessed just the right amount of airy girth to support the hefty, but not overwhelming burger. Fresh, peppery/smooth pimento cheese oozed temptingly over the moist, savory, locally sourced beef. A flutter of fresh onion crunch and a thick layer, about one inch high, of the ultra crunchy, cool house made cucumbers were heady, indeed. The toasted, buttered bun, got a flavor kiss from the aromatic house made ketchup and mayonnaise, to boot.
What is not to love? Despite increased competition from some truly worthy burger havens (HOM, Husk, and other stalwarts included), this is a dream maker. It’s just the kind of burger stuff that keeps you up at night, especially when you realize you have to wait for the weekend to experience it again!
With all of the personalized attention in the kitchen and the pristine (and, thus more pricey) sourcing of the food, the Butcher & Bee team manages to keep the price points extremely gentle, with entrees ranging from $8 – $11 and sides somewhere from $2 – $6. Considering that a “meal” at McDonald’s will cost you about $6 – and that’s just the beginning. That’s a huge deal, especially since the Butcher & Bee experience is profoundly nurturing at every level – spiritually, sensually, and sating our growing hunger for purity and deliciousness.
Seating is limited to about 20 now at the community table and some limited outside seating in the sunny parking lot, but plans are in place for a second table, and the late night crowd takes to standing and eating at the long, comfortable bar. Heck, I’d stand on my head if I had to for another bite of that burger and just about everything that comes out of Butcher & Bee’s amazing kitchen. Bravo!
Butcher & Bee
654 King Street