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Food & Drink

Butchers Hill Society brings diners in on a neighborhood secret

In case you haven't noticed, chef Malcolm Mitchell is making his mark on Baltimore's food scene.

He opened Ryder's, a gastropub in Upper Fells Point, last summer; The Kitchen Market, a specialty food shop, in the fall; and most recently, Butchers Hill Society, a wine bar in the neighborhood that bears its name.

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Next up is a 40,000-square-foot brewery in Station North with a menu that will focus on brick-oven dishes and using the whole animal. Construction is scheduled to begin in May.

You may not have even heard of this New York resident unless you happened to catch his appearances on "Food Network Star" and "Beat Bobby Flay."

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But he's not really an outsider. He grew up in Columbia.

These days, Mitchell is spending a lot of time at Butchers Hill Society, which opened in November, training his staff and fine-tuning the modern American offerings that complement the boutique wines and beers offered there.

Unlike just about every other restaurant in town, there's not a trendy cocktail in the place.

Instead, you'll find wines like a Cote de Danube pinot noir from Bulgaria and a Paul D. Zweigelt red from Austria, plus beers on tap that include Monument City 51 Rye and the Belgium ale Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet. Bottles of beer are also available.

On our first visit, we sat at one of the wooden tables lining a wall of the intimate corner restaurant, which has a few other tables in the back. Ours had an old sewing machine base. Modest artwork adorns the minimalist space, with a polished concrete bar dominating the room.

The bartenders and servers, wearing aprons reminiscent of a French bistro, are welcoming emissaries to Mitchell's latest concept.

Mitchell added "Society" to the name of the restaurant to indicate that the place is "our little secret society, where the neighborhood can feel like it's their own," he said.

There's no blaring sign advertising the spot at the corner of North Chester Street and East Fairmount Avenue. But diners who like a terrific discovery will want to go out of their way to find this attractive but unassuming exterior.

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Mitchell's food is as interesting and intriguing as his drink list. We started with Southern-fried pheasant fritters that showcased several elongated morsels and a jar of spicy mustard. The game-bird meat, encased in a crispy crust, was juicy, mild and delicious.

We also enjoyed a bowl of bright-green edamame sauteed with butter and roasted garlic. The succulent pods, sprinkled with fresh thyme, were bursting with flavor.

The cherry-wood grilled chicken was meritorious on many levels. The creative preparation included brushing the bird with a Chinese five-spice maple glaze and serving it with tender, multicolored baby carrots and fingerling potatoes.

The scallops were also outstanding with the plump, seared mollusks sharing the plate with a delicate parsnip puree, cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, fried shiitakes and just enough citrus vinaigrette to perk up the plate.

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On another evening, we sat at the bar for a pleasant experience. Wherever you sit, you need to sample several of the charcuterie options. You get to pick what you'd like.

Our wooden board was filled with tempting, thin slices of Hook's Blue Paradise cheese, Red Dragon cheese, prosciutto, speck and bresaola. The spread also includes grilled bread, roasted garlic and dabs of honey, blood-orange jam and spicy mustard.

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We also indulged in a fat bison burger with smoked cheddar cheese, roasted garlic aioli and caramelized onions. The only drawback was the bun, which overpowered the fine meat. It was grainier than a typical brioche.

The desserts at Butchers Hill Society fit the sophisticated menu. The sweet potato beignets, tossed in cinnamon sugar and perched atop swirls of caramel, were ethereal bites.

The deconstructed s'mores dish was luscious and airy. The plate was composed of a flourless chocolate cake, toasted marshmallow ice cream, graham shortbread, caramel and toasted marshmallows for a lovely treat.

Malcolm Mitchell has been quietly contributing to our food landscape over the past year, and it's important to pay attention to his name and restaurants. He's laying the groundwork to be an important player in town.

Welcome to Baltimore, Hon.


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