Friday, August 1, 2014

Butcher & the Brewer: Place and Time

The stars align for all of us from time to time. That’s happenstance. But every once in a while, you find yourself at the crossroads of “right time” and “right place.” That’s true serendipity. This is the very intersection where the three owners of The Tremont Taphouse — Jeff Leonard, Chris Lieb, and Jason Workman — happen to be right now, with everything advancing in such a way that it adds to the anticipation and excitement of their new project’s conclusion. It also doesn’t hurt to have Lebron James returning at about the same time you happen to be opening an establishment, the likes of which has not been seen in Cleveland, within one of the most popular dining destinations in the city (like I said: serendipity). In this case, the conclusion is actually going to be its beginning: Butcher and The Brewer, a communal gastropub, is weeks away from becoming the latest entity in the already-popular East 4th Street entertainment district. B&tB will house a new butcher shop, brewery, restaurant, and a bonus cocktail bar/speakeasy (!).

Stairway - Butcher & the Brewer

Diagram of Distillation Process - Butcher & the Brewer
The space has been completely transformed from its previous life as Dredger’s Union, the only recognizable feature being the ornate iron stairwell that takes you to the lower level. Every square inch of the cavernous, 180+ seat eatery is devoted to food or drink. You walk in through the main entrance from 4th Street into the main dining area. Off to the left (north) is the butcher shop where you can browse their selection of fresh meat, and where you’ll be able to grab a quick sandwich or a dog and a brew while you shop. The kitchen area is fitted with just about every kind of oven: conventional, charcoal, gas, stone, etc., and can be found behind the butcher shop. The kitchen also houses a walk-in cooler (with a window) and the dishwashing station. In the main dining room, you have an open view of not only the kitchen — with its open raw oyster bar and food/bar counters — but the gleaming stainless steel distillation tanks along the back wall. The main dining area contains a row of communal tables and high tops; to the right are more banquets and tables for four that can extend to six and more communal tables. And while the lighting, overhead fans, and surface materials (like the galvanized entrance to the butcher shop with chicken wire glass) could probably best be described as “industrial,” there is a warmth and coziness that seems to defy both the industrial tone and voluminous scale of the room.

Distillation Tanks - Butcher & the Brewer

Communal and Four Top Tables - Butcher & the Brewer

Galvanized Metal Door to Butcher Shop - Butcher & Brewer

Overhead Lighting and Fans - Butcher & the Brewer
On the lower level, you’ll find restrooms that can be accessed either by the staircase from another era or by elevator (ADA compliant) and the distillery’s storage tanks. At the onset, B&tB will offer 10 to 12 beer varieties, but once the kegging system is completed their only limit will be the brewer’s imagination. The lower level also houses a massive prep room equipped with a modest-sized freezer (considering the scale of the operation). The emphasis will be on farm-to-table freshness of food, especially when you have your own butcher shop and charcutier. The impressive equipment in this room also includes an oven that is several ovens in one (conventional, convection, steamer etc.,) and is the culinary equivalent of a smart phone. This “smart oven” not only memorizes recipes, it will automatically adjust the cooking time for a double-batch. Same if you substitute an ingredient. It learns and continues to store information as you use it. Incredible. Not to leave any stone unturned, there is also a walled-off private area with its own street entrance, which will serve as a cocktail bar/speakeasy.

Fermentation Tanks - Butcher & the Brewer (Lower Level)

Communal Sink Station - Butcher & the Brewer (Lower Level)

Cocktail Bar/Speakeasy - Butcher & the Brewer (Lower Level)

Smart Oven - Butcher & the Brewer (Lower Level)

As you may have guessed, no one would attempt an enterprise of this magnitude without a stellar crew of field generals all orchestrating their own area of expertise. We begin with the two for which the establishment is named:

• Butcher: Rex Workman (Jason’s brother)
• Brewer: Eric Anderson
• Charcutier: Nate Sieg
• Executive Chef: Jim Blevins
Chef de Cuisine: Mitch Keener
General Manager: Nikki Johnson

Rex Workman, Butcher

Nate Sieg, Charcutier

Nikki Johnson, General Manager and Lisa Newland, Manager

Executive Chef Jim Blevins was gracious enough to grant me an interview and tour. Blevins is a 20+ year veteran of the restaurant business in northeast Ohio. He credits many of the restaurants in which he worked, but he mentioned the training he received at Leo’s in Warren as his solid foundation. The chef/owners at Leo’s were all trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He went on to work at The Reserve Inn in Hudson (where he met his wife), Blue Canyon, Lola, Downtown 140, and Hodge’s. Blevins recalled that at age 27 he realized he didn’t want to do anything else and became even more determined to succeed in the industry.

Jim Blevins, Executive Chef/Photo by Edsel Little
“As Executive Chef, I see my role as being more like that of an editor of a daily newspaper.” Blevins will oversee a team of chefs as opposed to reporters. His team will include a chef de cuisine, two or three sous chefs, a butcher, a charcutier and a plethora (12-13) of line cooks. Blevins is adamant about wanting to showcase their work and give them credit. He regrets that many people don’t know the names of the people who actually create and cook the food in some of the more popular area restaurants.

“I’ve spent the past two-and-a-half months in Dubick’s test kitchen, figuring out the best process to accommodate the scale of Butcher & the Brewer, the nature of a communal gastropub, with a focus on grazing, menu, portion size, price point, all the while, emphasizing ‘hospitality.’ We’re here to serve our customers needs.” says Blevins. “It all has to come together for it to succeed.” His menu has six categories: Bar Snacks, Cultured & Cured (salume and cheese), Vegetables, Meat & Seafood. Blevins seemed proud to point out,  “I’m most excited about the vegetable dishes we’ve been able to create for our menu. It is an area we spent a lot of time developing and I expect it will be the star of the menu.” Although the food is here to support the beer operation, you would never guess this from the way the owners have equipped and staffed B&tB’s food operation to the nines.

Pickle Taste Test - Butcher & the Brewer
“The plan is to open for dinner in a few weeks with lunch to follow, then to open the store. Our menu will be the same for lunch and dinner,” says Blevins. “Eventually, we will add a brunch menu.” Although the rollout begins in a couple of weeks, they are giving themselves until November for their downstairs to open. It is an ambitious plan unfolding at the perfect time in our city’s downtown development. The butcher shop will have more area residents to rely on since there are more people living downtown than ever before. And, as if East 4th Street needed any more of an impetus, this fall we will see (witness?) the trumpeted return of a sports superstar to the Q.

I’m looking forward to following Butcher & the Brewer’s progress in the coming months — perhaps from one of their very own communal tables.

Chef Jim Blevins photo by Edsel Little 

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