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Butcher & Bee unites diners in a mission to eat well

Communal Fare

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Tucked in a warehouse underneath the I-26 overpass, you'll find Butcher & Bee — if you're lucky. OK, maybe it's not that hard to find, but you will have to search, and when you find it, what a delight it is. Deemed the "home to honest-to-goodness sandwiches," Butcher & Bee is dedicated to using locally sourced products. What makes them unusual is that they do it at odd times, practically opposite the hours of similar restaurants that serve this kind of food. They are open every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch or weekend brunch, depending on the day. And toward the end of the week, from Thurs.-Sat., they reopen for late night, from 11 p.m.-3 a.m.

As for local foods, they'll take half a Keegan-Filion pig and turn it into sausage, crispy pig trotters, and chicharrones. Burgers are made with MiBek Farms pastured beef. Fresh fish is hauled in courtesy of local fishermen like Mark Marhefka. Sure, a lot of restaurants are pulling stock from local purveyors, but here they're also baking the bread (brioche, ciabatta, and pita, to name a few) and growing cilantro, rosemary, carrots, radishes, beets, and a variety of greens right behind the restaurant.

The menu changes daily, and although there are items that make frequent appearances, B&B goes with what's fresh. The first thing you'll see when you enter is the long chalkboard that extends from the front counter and along the entire wall to the back of the room. You'll admire the chalk rendering of the Butcher & Bee logo — a bee and crisscrossing butcher knives — but your attention will quickly turn to the list of entrées, fresh sides, and the occasional dessert. Prices are noted on the board, but they weren't at first. The change was made when patrons indicated they weren't happy with their absence.

High ceilings, an old Bell South ladder, and jars of preserved vegetables distinguish the space, which was rather sparsely furnished on an early visit with a large wooden table in the center surrounded by a dozen or so antique chairs. Orders are placed at the counter, and seating is around the community table, where you are sure to make a few friends. Silverware in mason jars, paper towels, cups, and water line the table, with more stored in the hutch on the side of the room. The community style seating is a cool idea, but spots were very limited on most of my visits. A second table was recently added to fill up some of the empty space and help with the seating issues, and owner Michael Shem-Tov says more furniture is on the way.

Butcher & Bee has a feel-good kind of atmosphere, like a family meal, where one patron may fill and pass water glasses while another offers up paper towels, an air of conviviality making everyone feel welcome. When the meal is over, your bill can be settled near the old-school cash register where orders are placed, but payment is processed wirelessly on a slick iPad. The staff will kindly let you know they won't accept tips, and you'll notice there is no additional tax amount, as it's included in the entrée prices.

Orders are delivered to the table on industrial kitchen sheet pans, and the food rarely stumbles. Tender short ribs and a vibrant salad of shaved radish, avocado, chopped onion, cilantro straight from the garden, and a squirt of fresh lime juice on a torta made an amazing Adobo sandwich ($11). A side of sweet and spicy kimchi pickles ($5) or savory butter beans ($3) are great complements, but I could've polished off plate after plate of the pickled shrimp ($5.50). Succulent local shrimp are poached then pickled in a balanced mixture of vinegar, chopped ginger, garlic, radish, and carrots, then served on a bed of fresh greens. The plate was wiped clean so quickly that sadness set in, a sadness that lasted only until the arrival of a buttery, crispy brioche harboring juicy, shaved wagyu beef, smothered in a creamy cheddar Mornay that dripped onto the tray with every bite ($10).

The flavorsome Israeli sabich ($8) is a refined version of a traditional egg salad sandwich. Housemade pita is filled with chopped hard-boiled egg, eggplant, hummus, tahini, potato, and Israeli salad (diced cucumber and tomato). The Tunisian ($11) exploits the bounty of the sea by using fresh fish, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, capers, preserved lemon, and harissa, a chile-based condiment commonly eaten in North Africa. Triggerfish and pink snapper have starred in this sandwich, but amberjack made an appearance the time I ordered it. The sandwich was vibrant and fresh, with the harissa adding a zesty note.

Refreshments at B&B include a tart hand-squeezed lemon-nana (75 cents), which is a mint-infused lemonade, a variety of sodas made with real cane sugar ($2-$3), and large carafes of ice water. There's no booze here, which explains the 3 a.m. closing time, but feel free to BYOB (beer and wine only), and if needed, there's a convenience store across the street.

On a recent Saturday, we opted to bring in a bottle of champagne and OJ for the weekend brunch. Our mimosas went well with the decadent chocolate french toast ($5.50), a simple, yet tasty hummus plate ($5.50), and a single massive, flaky biscuit with warm honey ($3). The superstar was the crispy pimento cheese-stuffed chili relleno with its impeccably cooked 62 degree egg, ranchero, jalapeño, and chorizo. It was outstanding and quite possibly the best chili relleno I've had. Then, just when you think it can't get any better, it does.

Enter cream puffs — miniature pastries oozing with sweet vanilla custard, drizzled with warm chocolate, and finished with a faint dusting of snowy white powdered sugar ($1). Delightful. My only regret was eating just one. Here's hoping we see these on the menu more often.

While most of the food fires on all cylinders, there was one item that was disappointing. I was excited to see the quintessential comfort sandwich of my youth, the Sloppy Joe ($8), on the menu. While the ground beef is from MiBek Farms, it was apparent that Joe came to play but left Sloppy behind. Hoping for a fresh twist on the classic bun piled high with ground beef swimming in chopped onions and sweet and tangy tomato sauce requiring the use of many napkins, I was instead presented with a brioche bearing a mound of barely moist ground beef.

Shem-Tov is inspired by the idea of linking the farm-to-table model with affordable prices, creative food, and a communal environment. He plans to open for dinner more often, hold pop-up events, and expand the garden with additional vegetables and herbs. He is working hard to provide his customers with a one-of-a-kind dining experience, and to do that he pays close attention. In other words, when someone speaks up, he listens. For example, when I called to check my facts, Shem-Tov was on his way back from Atlanta with a trailer full of furniture for the space because that's what diners want. With dedication like that, I'm confident that Sloppy will show up with Joe next time.

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