Michael Shemtov and Stuart Tracy opened Butcher & Bee with a mission: To create the kind of restaurant that they and their colleagues in the food, beverage and hospitality industry would frequent when their shift ended close to the bewitching hour.
Butcher & Bee
Cuisine: Local ingredients sandwiched with global inspiration
Representative Dish: Pulled squash barbecue sandwich, banh mi and creative interpretation of classic sandwiches
Address: 654 King St.
Bar: None; BYOB
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; 6 p.m.-12 a.m. Thursday dinner; 11 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday brunch
Costs: Sandwiches $9-$15; sides $4-$9; desserts $4-$6; brunch $9-$15
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: BYOB, $15 corkage fee; pop-up dinners; special events; daily changing menu, reservations for dinner on website, newsletter, outdoor seating.
What our stars mean:
5 stars: Exceptional; sets a standard for dining excellence.
4 stars: Superior; worth a trip beyond your neighborhood or culinary comfort zone.
3 stars: Solid example of this type of dining.
2 stars: Adequate if you’re in the neighborhood or seeking this type of dining.
1 star: Generally disappointing dining experience.
What our $ signs mean:
One $: $5 to $15
Two $$: $15-$25
Three $$$: $25-$50
Four $$$$: $50 +
Shemtov also brings a keen business acumen to B & B; as the owner/partner of Mellow Mushroom in downtown Charleston and Avondale, he knows the value of real estate, so Butcher & Bee also opens at 11 a.m. serving lunch to those whose circadian rhythm pulses to another beat.
B & B is also a culinary “off Broadway,” where restaurateur upstarts can test their mettle at popular pop-up dinners, where visiting chefs make guest appearances and local chefs can distance themselves from the mantle of their current restaurants and step into untried waters of menu experimentation.
But the heart of B & B is, according to Shemtov, “the comfort food you can hold in your hand.” If that, for you, is a “$5 foot-long” or a Styrofoam-packaged meat patty, prepare your taste buds for an experience.
Think of Stuart Tracy’s kitchen operation as a Farmville for sandwiches, where the architect and engineer join forces to construct iconic monuments to bread, meat and condiments.
As classic French recipes begin with well-made fond (the stock or foundation), the sandwiches at B & B begin with an equally constructed base: house-made bread. Whether it is the eggy, light brioche, puffy pitas or crusty tortas, the kitchen here knows a good sandwich is built, not made.
With a commitment to quality breads, Shemtov and Tracy also require that the condiments be worthy companions to their artistry of crumb and crust. Ketchup, pickles, chimichurri, whole grain mustards, hoisin, tahini, skhug (a Yemeni inspired hot pepper sauce): If they use it, most likely they have made it.
Look around B & B and you will see a pantry covered with honeycomb-patterned chicken wire housing the fruits of their pickling and canning labors.
The staff is one of sandwich vigilantes where the pithy centers of tomato slices are excised with the precision of a surgeon; lettuce leaves are tailored to fit the bun; and pickles, slaw and peanuts are strategically placed to maintain texture, contrast or crunch in every bite.
On the menu: house-made pimiento cheese in the grilled cheese sandwich that melts with abandon between slices of sturdy bread; a Mexican torta is filled with chorizo and guacamole; and a simple schnitzel of chicken pounded thin and sizzled in a crisp breaded envelope that is topped with tahini and spicy skhug.
Signature sandwiches that have remained on the menu with some degree of regularity are the house-made roast beef with onion jam, the pulled squash barbecue sandwich with smoked slaw, and the pork belly with cabbage-cucumber slaw, seasoned hoisin sauce and sweet roasted peanuts.
Late-night will feature sandwiches of substance as well as restorative and reparative foods for those nursing indiscretions of food or beverage. Fried egg sandwiches, layered burgers, deviled eggs that coat your stomach with the balm of tranquility, chicken wings treated with pastrami seasonings and banh mi are a sampling.
The kitchen freely toys with classics: interpreting a panzanella (bread and tomato salad) with grilled apples and butternut squash tossed with croutons and dressed with a brown butter and sherry vinaigrette; coleslaw made with kale; kimchickles, in which cucumbers get the kimchi treatment; and affogato made with Turkish coffee.
It also stays the course with warm banana bread, bread pudding topped with caramel and whipped cream, French toast, eggplant Parm and ham, eggs and cheese.
Old-school beverages are available from a cooler and feature Mr. Q Cumber, a cucumber flavored soda that is a great companion to the pork belly; Fentiman’s product line that made a little history on the “Colbert Report” with its Victorian Lemonade; Jarritos Mexican sodas and Mexican Coca-Cola made with pure cane sugar.
Butcher & Bee is on Upper King Street in the former Charleston Gardens outlet.
The interior has a rustic charm manifested by its repurposed farm tables, tractor seats, pantry hutches and a few scattered tables for two. Community dining, Mason jars holding cutlery, rolls of paper towels for mopping up the sandwich juices and a paper hive hanging from the ceiling in the fashion of a Calder mobile complete with taxidermied bees bring a commune sense to the dining room.
Elizabeth Beak of Crop Up participated in designing a garden on the property that is a source of fresh herbs and root vegetables.
Mark Marhefka of Abundant Seafood supplies the fish, MiBek Farms the pastured beef, and local farmers and shrimpers keep the menu local and seasonal.
Like Be’Wiched Deli in Minneapolis, Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, N.C., and Cochon Butcher in New Orleans, B & B dresses the flesh and the bread for the adventurous eater. Its vibe is rustic and industrial. It is mulched with ideas from the staff and the farms. It presents a kitchen where ideas and recipes are pollinated with the talents of the staff. Butcher and Bee swarms with good eats; a mecca for the modern sandwich eater.