Butcher Block Grill is a steakhouse with a conscience.
All of its meat and poultry is antibiotic and hormone-free. Seafood is locally sourced and wild caught. The menu even lists the South Florida farms where chef Joshua Hedquist finds seasonal produce.
Hedquist comes to Butcher Block after stops at da Campo Osteria in Fort Lauderdale and Big Time Restaurant Group, owner of Big City Tavern, City Cellar and Rocco's Tacos. He also worked with Dennis Max's The Max Group.
Butcher Block combines elements of large corporate and small farm-to-table restaurants. The result is mostly successful, although after just two months in business, it's still very much a work in progress. I can't wait to see it in two more months.
I love its suburban west Boca location in The Fountains Center. The seven buildings were constructed over nine years from 1979 to 1988 and represent the best kind of open-air Florida architecture. Its new owners are in the process of spending $8 million on upgrading the property: repairing its many fountains, repaving walkways and replanting the lush landscaping. Most of the work appears to be done and the center is almost fully leased.
The 145-seat Butcher Block has a primo spot with an outdoor patio that looks on to one of the larger fountains. It's going to be an incredible dining terrace once it cools down.
The staff will no doubt improve over time, but on a not so busy Saturday night, they seem frazzled. When you're paying this kind of money for dinner, wait staff need to slow down long enough to make a connection with guests. And since they're also selling a farm-to-table ethos, they need to be just a little more thoughtful.
Dinner starts with basket of very good bread and roasted hot pepper oil that you'll find yourself dipping into again and again. I'm a fan of charred pizza crust, so it follows that wild mushroom flat bread ($14) was a big hit. It's topped not only with mushrooms, but also with red onion, asiago and truffle oil. We also shared a huge beef carpaccio ($14) appetizer served with arugula and a scattering of aged Parmesan and garlic herb aioli. Made with Creekstone Farms natural Black Angus beef, it's lean and flavorful with just enough aioli.
Mozzarella ($14) is made table side, and it's true that freshness counts when it comes to this cheese. Try it if you don't believe me. And if all salads were as good as the BLT ($12), we'd eat salads for dinner every night. Boston bibb is tossed with bacon, tomato, charred scallions and blue cheese vinaigrette. Every fork is a delight.
We ordered two steaks. The 24-ounce Cowboy rib-eye ($60) was tender and delicious. It was served with steak fries like I've never had before. Thick-cut, they're cooked three times and are crispy on the outside, while still buttery soft inside. They were also salted perfectly.
But the 32-ounce porterhouse ($79) was chewy, bordering on tough — both the strip steak portion and the tenderloin. It happens, but shouldn't. Not at this price.
Grilled Colorado lamb chops ($30) were tender and nicely cooked to medium rare. They're plated with lyonnaise Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes, romesco and mint pesto, and lemon gremolata. Nicely done.
Side dishes are where chef Hedquist gets to shine. Caramelized Brussels sprouts with bacon and garlic aioli ($9) were very good, but a little heavy on aioli. We'd also had aioli on the flat bread and carpaccio. Lobster truffle mac n' cheese ($15) had nice chunks of lobster and Hedquist didn't overdo the truffle flavor, but it arrived less than hot to our table. (Back to the frazzled service.)
Pet peeve: The flatware used at Butcher Block needs an upgrade. That incredible slice of goat cheese cheesecake ($11) would be even better with a fork that wasn't bought at the dollar store. The cake has a spiced pistachio crust and gets served with macerated berries, champagne cherry gelee, whipped cream and micro basil. Apple bread pudding cake ($9) was also a delight, with walnut butterscotch crumble and caramel creme anglaise, served with honey gelato.
Don't be alarmed, as we were, if you're handed the Butcher's Wine List instead of the House Wine list. The first one features small production American wines. Most are priced in the hundreds of dollars. The House list is much more egalitarian and we found a nicely priced bottle of The Riddler, the red blend from Napa's Stratton Lummis Wines. A full liquor license is also in the works. And an outside bar is being constructed in time for season.
I believe any kinks in service and food will by then be worked out.
Butcher Block Grill
7000 W. Camino Real, The Fountains Center, Boca Raton