The long rib -- correction, the magnificent long rib -- at Butcher & the Boar is so tantalizingly impressive that it's enough to make a hard-core vegetarian flip the switch.
Picture this: a beef rib as long as your forearm, cured in salt and sugar and smoked for eight hours before it hits the kitchen's wood-burning grill, where it's glazed with Tabasco and molasses. The final sticky-and-sweet product boasts more than a pound of ridiculously succulent, falling-off-the-bone meat, and like so much of chef Jack Riebel's adventurous, confident cooking, it isn't afraid to radiate some serious spice-induced heat.
After competing with me to see who could finish it first, my friend, his law-school vocabulary reduced to that of a caveman's, could manage only two words: "Want. Again."
Same here. That has to be a common reaction at this pathbreaking new downtown Minneapolis restaurant, where Riebel and colleague Peter Botcher are deftly galvanizing a flurry of culinary forces -- Southern regional cooking, Minnesota's German-American heritage, barbecue, the snout-to-tail phenomenon, the gastropub movement -- into a previously unimaginable but instantly coherent whole. There is nowhere else like it.
First things first: The charcuterie! Yes, it's true, a diner can't swing a duck liver in this town without hitting some kind of organ-meat-obsessed practitioner, but Riebel and Botcher elevate the craft to dizzying new heights. Forget everything known about braunschweiger, because the skilled artisans at Butcher & the Boar demonstrate that the way to go is by skipping pork in favor of Minnesota-raised turkey livers, their silky luxuriousness topped with a layer of chicken fat and bits of black truffles.
At the risk of sounding like a 51-year-old white guy attempting an ill-advised "You go, girl" moment, I've got to say that the extraordinary grilled sausages are Shutting. It. Down. They're hefty things, served beer-hall-style, on platters, and all that seems to be missing are stout German women to deliver them to the table. The one sausage not made on the premises (although it's smoked in-house) is the footlong hot dog, an utterly delightful über-garnished monster that has forever ruined me for those boring Target Field Twins Dogs.
Other glories await inside this precociousness-free zone. First up: a brined and smoked pork chop as thick as a pre-Internet Yellow Pages. In a characteristic Riebel manner, its uncomplicated pepper, maple and fruit accents enhance rather than overwhelm the juicy meat's intense pork profile.
No sane mortal could get enough of the grilled oysters, each creamy bite teased with that woodsy smoke, and the three prime cuts of steak are tops in their class, each boasting a well-seasoned char exterior that yields to a ruby red interior. Salads -- the kitchen's interests are not 100 percent animal-oriented -- are pretty and unusually well balanced, and the vast majority of side dishes are lavished with a level of tender loving care usually associated with showier main courses.
Truth to tell, a few dishes were less than impressive. Glazed chicken and bacon-wrapped turkey both did the trick, but neither equaled the menu's other splendors. A decent cured salmon seemed to have dropped in from a different restaurant, and the beer-battered fries have a trying-too-hard vibe.
Oh, and if there's one environment where standoffish Minnesotans will embrace the dreaded communal dining table, this is it. As for the sprawling patio and beer garden, it's still a work in progress, but it promises to be this summer's most happening open-air dining and drinking venue.
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