Culinary nostalgia hit the streets of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood when acclaimed Chef Allen Sternweiler and partner Josh Woodward opened the doors of Butcher & the Burger last fall, an innovative dining concept that places a modern spin on the old-fashioned butcher shop. At this 30-seat counter-service restaurant, Chef Al combines his love of burgers with a desire to provide diners with access to prime cuts of locally sourced meats to take home, prepared dishes and an outstanding selection of burgers to be served in-house. Chef Al’s assortment of all natural seasoning blends, straight-from-the-farm add-ons, and fresh, locally-baked buns offers diners an unparalleled burger experience.
(Caution: Butchering pictures ahead.)
Butcher & the Burger’s programming is centered on two main concepts – the burger counter and the butcher shop – that offer a dash of culinary artistry with true neighborhood flavor. The burgers are arguably some of the best in Chicago, but one of the things that makes Butcher & the Burger stand out from the rest of the ‘burger-centric’ restaurants in the city is the butcher counter and the accompanying butchery classes.
At the restaurant’s entrance, patrons will find a classic 4’ McCray butcher case displaying the highest quality traditional meats, such as prime Black Angus and cube steak, as well as a rotating selection of exotic proteins such as Wagyu beef, soft-shell crab, ostrich and elk. All items can be purchased as raw, prepared patties, meatballs or loaves, providing an easy solution for outdoor barbeques and home-cooked comfort food. Butcher & the Burger also satisfies custom orders for holidays and other occasions upon request, including – but not limited to – organic whole turkeys, suckling pigs and special cuts of steak.
While Chef Al and his team strive to serve deliciously prepared meats to customers, they also want to educate on the source of those delicacies. Each month, Butcher & the Burger offers an ongoing series of culinary classes that invite attendees to get hands-on with their favorite proteins while learning the art of butchery.
I recently had the pleasure to be invited to attend a hog butchery class at Butcher & the Burger. Classes are limited in size because they take place downstairs in the restaurant’s prep kitchen, a small but well-stocked space. Chef Al guides the participants through a class that includes a great deal of information about the animal, the different cuts of meat, and ultimately how to best to cut the animal to create the specific cuts you desire. He gives lots of information without it being overwhelming. He told us about his career as a chef and in butchery, showing where he got all his knowledge from. He talked about how he started and gave us the ins and outs of running a butcher shop. There were a few people on the course who wanted to become butchers so he gave them advice like how they can get National Bandsaw parts for meat grinders when they break down and it will save you a lot of money. It’s little details like that which made the whole experience so special.
On the night I attended, there were 12 people in attendance and we were treated to Chef Al’s expertise and passion for his art while watching him work with a full half pig. What stands out for me about this experience are three major points:
1. Chef Al is incredibly knowledgeable, personable, and passionate about his work. He is also an amazing teacher, and you will walk away with a tremendous amount of knowledge about the basics of knife technique as well as how to best create the cuts of meat you desire.
2. After the class, you will know enough to be a much savvier consumer when you purchase meat. Chef Al will definitely teach you about which cuts are best and how to specifically request what you want from a butcher. In addition, he will teach you clearly how to recognize sub-standard meat and how to avoid overpaying for it.
3. Finally, knowing the cuts and exactly how they are prepared and where they come from will make you a much more knowledgeable restaurant guest. Chef Al very clearly demonstrates why certain cuts are more expensive than others, and why some should not be priced as high as they are. As a result, you will be able to go into a restaurant with a clear understanding of just exactly what you want and what should arrive on your plate.
These classes vary from month to month, each one focusing on a different type of butchery. Check their website at http://butcherandtheburger.com/butcher-the-burger-classes for details on what’s next.