Jack Riebel's grandma would be proud. You see, the former Dakota chef is a bourbon man. Has been since he was old enough to drink -- when his mother's mother introduced him to what is called America's Native Spirit.
"Wild Turkey 101 was her poison -- so I'm a 101 guy, too," Riebel said. "We were going to bury her with a bottle of bourbon. But at 85 she told us, 'Oh, goodness, don't waste your good bottle of whiskey on me.' True story."
Were his grandmother alive today, Riebel surely would have lavished her with the best of the best at his new place. The chef is at the helm of one of the most anticipated restaurants of the year: Butcher & the Boar. And this be a bourbon joint.
Just opened in downtown Minneapolis, the restaurant has captured the zeitgeist of the current restaurant scene. All that is hot right now can be found here -- artisanal meats, craft beer and, of course, lots and lots of bourbon.
One sign of anticipation? The joint had 1,200 Facebook fans before it ever opened.
"There is an American craft movement happening right now," Riebel said. "Even the china we bought was made in America."
The Texas-inspired menu is piled high with sausages, dry-aged beef and ribs -- all sourced from sustainable farms. Riebel's team is a who's who of industry veterans, culled from restaurants such as Bar La Grassa, Barrio and Tilia.
It took six months and a lot of rejiggering to get this enterprise off the ground. The chef allowed me to take a peek behind the curtain. Here are nine things you'll want to know about Butcher & the Boar.1. Beer and sausage was just the beginning
Initially, Riebel and company had a simple idea for a downtown beer garden with good meaty snacks. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, their ambitions quickly grew until they were commanding a 60-person operation that could very well redefine barbecue in the Twin Cities. After years of working in the best of other people's kitchens (Goodfellows, La Belle Vie, Dakota), Riebel is ready to flex his chops as owner and operator.2. This isn't just a restaurant -- it's a charcuterie factory
Customers dine within earshot of the open kitchen and its wood-burning grill on the main floor. But just below in the basement is a larger production kitchen running 18 hours a day. Down here, sous chef Peter Botcher oversees a half-dozen cooks churning out all manner of sausage (venison, walleye, vegetarian chorizo). It's where you'll also find the two smokers -- one is made by Ole Hickory and can hold more than 300 pounds of ribs.3. They're serving boar and it is truly wild
The feral pig comes from Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram, Texas, which supplies top restaurants with wild game harvested in the field. "They literally spot the pigs from the truck, shoot them and then process them in the truck," Riebel said. He said Butcher & the Boar already is the nation's largest purchaser of wild boar (serving it in a variety of ways: ham, headcheese and one juicy sausage).4. Hennepin Avenue will now be called Bourbon Street
Partner/bar manager Jerald Hansen (a Manny's alum) traveled to Kentucky to handpick the bar's collection of 65 bourbons. One of the crown jewels is a nine-year-old Knob Creek single-barrel bourbon chosen specifically for Butcher & the Boar. As for prices, 2-ounce pours range from $5 to $30 (with Pappy Van Winkle's 20-year on the higher end). Flights are $12. If bourbon's not your thing (what's wrong with you?), there are 30 tap beers and 28 wines by the glass.5. The floor is covered with 8,000 pennies
What's more American than stepping on Abraham Lincoln's face? That's right: From the entryway to the end of the bar, co-owner/builder Tim Rooney coated the ground with 8,000 copper coins. "They were delivered by an armored truck," Riebel said. "There's a few dimes in there, too." Beefing up the rustic interior are thick timber tables, cast-iron fixtures and reclaimed tin door frames (complete with shattered glass).6. Only one thing on a bun
And that's by design (it's the footlong hot dog). Riebel designed his menu for maximum sharing (and thinks ordering a hamburger means you don't like sharing). The sausages are $9 to $12. The venison comes with homemade Cheez Whiz. "Yeah, we're making our own Cheez Whiz," he said. Riebel seemed particularly proud of his $10 turkey braunschweiger, which comes in a glass canning jar with homemade rye crackers. Larger meats start at $18. The biggest slab on the menu is a 30-ounce "cowboy steak," priced at $80 and meant to be shared (obviously).7. Here's a parking guide -- you'll need it
The parking at 12th and Hennepin can be intimidating. Best option is valet. There are 18 free spots in what is being called "the lucky lot" next to the building. The garage behind the restaurant is $4 after 4 p.m. or if you're lucky, grab a meter (free after 6 p.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday).8. There will be a second opening, so to speak.
The unfinished beer garden already has a big buzz and there's still snow (or slush) on the ground. Riebel says it feels like he's opening a second restaurant on the same property. It'll have room for about 150 people and feature a full-on bar (also with 30 taps). There will be a fireplace, plus views of the IDS Center. He's hoping to have it completed by May.9. Grandma honored on the menu
That's her: the Pickled Heart Marcella. A lot of love goes into that dish, named for Riebel's bourbon-loving nana (Marcella Strom). The hearts come from grass-fed cows on the StoneBridge beef farm in Long Prairie. The recipe (with its pickled radishes) has been in the family 100 years, Riebel said, passed down from one cook to the next. Just like their love of bourbon.
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