Field Notes

The Butcher, the Baker, the Cheeseburger Maker

Beast and Cleaver hides a destination restaurant behind a (really good) butcher counter.

By Allecia Vermillion September 13, 2022

The line-inducing monthly burger at Beast and Cleaver. Photograph by Amber Fouts.

To level up his pate en croute, Kevin Smith trained at St. Lawrence, a Canadian fine dining spot that’s essentially the Madison Square Garden of baking pureed and cured meat molded inside a decorative pastry crust. A local chocolatier helped create the stencil-like process that imprints a pattern on the pastry’s buttery exterior. Their contents may vary, but each slice tastes like roast beef at Christmas teatime.

As Smith readied his north Ballard butcher shop, Beast and Cleaver, he trained like a meat and pastry biathlete; he made two a week for a year, giving these creations away as a neighbor might pawn off an abundance of summer zucchini. His version resembles a lavish art installation tucked among the flank steaks and ground beef in the butcher’s case. But it shares DNA with the meat pies Smith baked with his mom growing up in South East London.

Pate en croute, ready for showtime.

Image: Amber Fouts

Each loaf may be a tightrope of variables, but since the center uses up stray bits like duck and goose livers, it’s the most practical flex in town. “The cost of one of those things is so cheap,” says Smith. But given the time involved, “it’s one of the most expensive things we sell.”

As butcher shops go, Beast and Cleaver is exceptional. Smith sources nearly every animal from Oregon and Washington ranches, save the occasional foie gras shipment and the A5 Wagyu from Japan. His staff will dismantle a cow from Moses Lake into uncommon cuts like the toro steak, or dry age a rib eye for a mind-bending, palate-detonating 150 days.

Beast and Cleaver's butcher case draws crowds by day.

Image: Amber Fouts

But after the staff wraps the contents of the butcher case for the night, Beast and Cleaver pulls a few tables in front of the counter and turns into a surprise destination restaurant for the meat enthusiast. The environs may be utilitarian, but the small kitchen wedged behind the meat counter can pull off a next-level tasting menu, then turn around and crank out cheeseburgers in a cast-iron skillet for a line that stretches down the block.

Kevin Smith sources nearly all his meat from Washington and Oregon ranches.

Image: Amber Fouts

Whole-animal dining was already centuries old by the time chefs started posing for cookbook photos with pig carcasses hoisted jauntily over their shoulders. But it has assumed new prominence as we examine the sustainability of eating meat. Smith cheerfully blurs the line between butcher and chef, using each skill set to make the other feel new. Like that pate en croute, it’s practicality molded into something remarkable.

 

“Welcome to Cirque du Soleil…we do eat the performers.” Chef de cuisine Alex Hunt chats up diners like a warm-up act as a koji-cured coppa, or pork collar roast, dangles from a string over a flame box placed on Beast and Cleaver’s range. But Hunt spends the better part of his workweek preparing the elements that go into these five-course menus.

Smith insisted chef de cuisine Alex Hunt learn butchery when he came to work here. Breaking down a whole animal lets you see new possibilities in meat, says Hunt.

Image: Amber Fouts

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, the shop assumes its tasting menu nom de plume, the Peasant. Claiming one of the 16 seats requires assiduous attention to its email newsletter. Usually Smith, or Hunt, is the only person cooking.

Beast and Cleaver only has a wine and beer license, but you’d never know it based on the welcome drink, a bendy and unexpected combination of framboise with amaro, honey, nutmeg, and hibiscus syrup. Lummi Island ikura dots steak tartare, and you better believe one of those courses involves a slice of Smith’s pate en croute.

The Peasant feels bootstrapped in the most convivial sense, like a clandestine after-hours gathering rather than the formality that usually accompanies the term “chef’s tasting menu.” It’s designed to exalt all the bits left over after filling the butcher case with animals’ trophy cuts. But this is food that would hold its own on any white tablecloth. Nick Davis, a master sommelier whose resume includes the meaty domain of Bateau, pairs each plate with biodynamic German pinot blanc, or an Umbrian sangiovese blend with a pleasant smack of saline.

The Peasant dinners include drink pairings and dessert (usually made by Smith).

Image: Amber Fouts

That coppa turned up later in the evening atop a parsnip puree, tasting like green garlic wrangled an invite to Sunday dinner. But the most stunning dish of an off-hours meal inside a butcher shop turned out to be vegetarian: celeriac smoked over hickory for five hours, then run through the shop’s meat slicer and served with toasted hazelnuts and soft vache cheese.

Things loosen up on wine bar nights, where Davis shows off the breadth of his bottle list. On my first visit, I asked Smith about the unfamiliar “London Royale” on the menu, one of a few cuts listed beneath the handful of small plates. This is Smith’s unabashed rebranding of the London Broil, a grocery store steak that generally gets no respect. It’s a top round, a tough piece of meat you buy on the cheap and cook into submission. “It tastes like shoe leather,” says Smith. “I mean, it’s not good.”

Beast and Cleaver's "London royale" cut.

Image: Amber Fouts

This explains why his London Royale costs $29, hovering next to a rib eye and six ounces of A5 Miyazaki Wagyu at more than twice the price. Order one and Smith will pop it into a skillet full of hot butter infused with garlic and rosemary. It rests, then emerges so rare, it’s almost blue. He slices it thin, tossed with that rosemary butter—and grins like he just performed a magic trick. Which is a reasonable way to think about transforming a piece of bargain meat into a meal you still remember with clarity, even months later.

Like many whole-animal operations, Beast and Cleaver cooks burgers to use up its trim. The shop preps about 80 patties for a monthly burger popup. When local food writer and all-knowing protein sage J. Kenji López-Alt touted these on his influential Instagram, the shop upped its patty cache to 100. Smith soon found himself hurriedly grinding extra dairy cow as the line outside swelled. He made three trips next door to buy all the burger buns Larsen’s Danish Bakery had on its shelves.

One customer threw his keys on the sidewalk in frustration when Smith finally stepped outside, 150 burgers later, and conceded to the queue that he’d run out of beef to grind. If you do it right, the practical bits of an animal can inspire as much passion as the trophies inside the case.


Good Luck with That Reservation

People who receive Beast and Cleaver’s email newsletter get first word when new bookings open up for its 16 seats—and for special events, like Sunday night vertical beef tastings paired with library wines.

Share
Show Comments

Related Content