The Blind Butcher Has a Vision for Meat
Poutine is hot in Dallas, but you haven’t seen it like this.
Cured meats and craft beer. Simmered down to its tagline, Blind Butcher is about what you'd expect from its founders, Goodfriend veterans Matt Tobin and Josh Yingling, even if they did team up with a fine-dining chef to pull it off. Because in the mind of this fine-dining chef, Oliver Sitrin, charcuterie that might otherwise be realized as a porcelain ribbon of delicate lardo instead conjures an angry, tattooed salami that's spicy and listens to Motörhead. Caramel corn comes sprinkled with bacon. The french fries sizzle in duck fat. House-made pastrami is tucked alongside sauerkraut into perfectly fried egg rolls.
Things were very different at Sitrin's last post, the Park Cities' Marquee Grill, where under Tre Wilcox creativity was realized in reductions and foams. The results were pretty plates and muted flavors, which surely helped make Tobin and Yingling's offer to come build a meat mecca an attractive one. Sitrin might never set eyes on a seared scallop again. It was time to make the bacon.
You may be able to find any of the ingredients and dishes produced in Blind Butcher's kitchen scattered around other menus in Dallas, but you won't find them all in one place, and you won't find them realized with this much enthusiasm. What's happening in this Lower Greenville Avenue pub is exciting because it's unique. That's why you'll likely have a hard time getting a table.
Poutine, for instance, is a Canadian drunk food that's been showing up on Dallas menus recently, but it's never shown up like this. Sitrin takes those duck fat fries and covers them with gravy and soft, melting cheese curds (nothing new — yet) and then adds a duck egg, fried sunny side up (getting a little crazy) and a heaping measure of shredded, braised duck (surely enough to satisfy the most reckless of poutine fans). Then, if you're willing to pay $10 extra for it, he adds a small puck of perfectly seared, glistening foie gras. The dish is capable of causing palpitations while simultaneously making you not care that your feet are going numb.
There are lesser, gentler poutine versions if you like. The pork belly version adds nothing more than tender, cooked pig to the gravy-soaked curds and fries, and a mushroom version is blissfully meat-free. But don't expect too much of that at Blind Butcher. Remember: meat, beer.
There's a lot of beer. The cardstock menu is printed front and back with a well-rounded list that runs from local breweries to regional craft beers to the commodity brewers you're used to swilling at your local dive. There are more obscure bombers of boozy Belgians for the taking, and if you're interested in a slightly sweet and malty Franconia Marzen, a beer that is exclusive to the bar, or the same brewery's comparatively crisp Kolsch, you can sip on either by the liter from a massive glass mug.
Impressive beer lists can be found in at least three bars within stumbling distance, though. You're here for the tube-shaped meats. Order a cold ale of your choosing, and then the bangers and mash, which will transport you to some alternate version of rural England where the food is actually, exceptionally good. The house-made sausage — all of the sausages are cased in the kitchen — is paired with an onion gravy so rich and deeply reduced it's the color of shoe polish yet somehow still delicious. The mashed potatoes will keep you up at night, they're so rich and velvet-smooth. You'll want to extend Sitrin an invitation to your next Thanksgiving supper, and you already know Mom will understand.
The duck and foie gras sausage may be even better, packing rich and gamey flavors balanced by sweet chutney.
There are times when you may think that extra meat is being used simply for meat's sake, and it becomes a little daunting. A bacon bratwurst is excessively rich with smoky pork belly, though it's hard to care when you doctor a bite with some of the crunchy sauerkraut and mustard on the plate waiting to brighten your palate. And the desserts, like the sandwich built with grocery-store cookies and ice cream that's consistently too soft, feel a little uninspired next to the rest of the menu.
Other missteps are harder to swallow, like the pig's ears that sat uneaten one night at the bar. The ears are braised until they're tender, cut into strips and deep-fried, which is often a recipe for success, but these arrive soft, chewy and unsettling, caked with spices that recall East Carolina barbecue. (An errant strip or two with some snap shows the snack has potential.)
For the most part, though, Sitrin's cooking boasts creativity that smacks of real art, even when it's rugged and excessively meaty. And for that, Blind Butcher, which has only been open since February, has already found a very recognizable personality.
Take the charcuterie. It may lack the refinement of the cured meats served at Lucia or other restaurants that serve $20 glasses of seductive wine, but you can't sit at the bars of those restaurants and order a beer the size of your face. You'd also miss out on the big, aggressive flavors fine dining chefs tend to shun. Sitrin often outpaces the mineral flavors found in salami with spices, and he's as likely to stuff ground beef heart into a casing as he is more innocuous cuts of meat. When Sitrin uses heat, you can get burned. When he makes a liver pâté, it is rich with earthy flavors, yet somehow boasts the soft texture of a refined mousse.
There are pickles everywhere: carrots, radishes, pieces of celery and beets for days. They embellish most of the plates that leave the kitchen, and join greens in a salad dressed in a mustard vinaigrette that barks like wasabi. If you don't want the heat and still need some veg, the elbow salad with chopped greens and smoked chicken will please everyone. Yes, add the bacon.
But spend too much time on roughage and you'll miss the point. After all, cured meat and craft beer, right? Both elements are realized equally in a kitchen that is capable of surprises, served in a space that is very much a bar. Weekend evenings border on boisterous as high ceilings and hard surfaces yield a deafening roar. There will be shot takers, and some of them may even order a shooter that's named after a cookie, but it's an attractive space, with dark wood and frosted light fixtures that signal it's time to let go of the filament light bulbs that have become a fundamental component of modern restaurant design.
If dining next to a jet engine is not your thing, simply come early, either in the day or during the week. The dining room will still have energy, but a few empty seats tamp down the noise. There's also a patio out back that's comparatively quiet. Imagine that: a decent-sized deck with outdoor seating where you can get a bratwurst and a Budweiser, or an Ommegang with some house-made cheese when the weather is nice. You might need a new excuse to drive to Austin.