As my friend and I walked into The Butcher's Block and prepared to be seated, we were greeted instantly and offered an ice cold Corona. The young guy with long, brown wavy hair citing, "I can't charge you for one, but I can give you one." How do you turn down a deal like that? It was the day before the Fourth of July and with nothing going on but my current recon mission we graciously accepted. With my 14th wedding anniversary looming, I was on a hunt to find a good restaurant to take my wife out to for dinner the following week.
I had heard about The Butcher's Block from my barber but the Google didn't have much on it and I was leary about taking a flyer on a new place. So I roped in my buddy for this lunch mission to check it out. Needless to say, a greeting like that sure does go a long way towards making a great first impression but it was the lunch menu that blew me away. Filled with a variety of items from the standard to the unique it had a little something for everyone but neither one of us could resist The Porchetta 'Bout It sandwich.
Great bread makes a great sandwich and this perfectly toasted baguette was just that. Filled with delicious roast pork, topped with salsa verde and served with a side of fries that I am fairly certain were fried in beef fat and what originally might have been just a porchetta sandwich was so next level. Glancing up from devouring this carnivorous delight, I noticed that we were not the only ones engrossed by the consumption of this incredible food. Everyone around us was nose to the grindstone, chowing down on their dishes. However, despite how delicious my sandwich was, it was not the sole reason that I booked a reservation for my anniversary dinner. It was the overall atmosphere and experience that sucked me in. Bill paid, the owner, Tom, (that same wavy haired guy who initially greeted us) gave us another beer and sat down with us for roughly 30 minutes over an amazing plate of bone marrow to talk food, his concept and vision and even had his chefs come out to help us with a recipe for a venison roast that we were cooking for the Fourth. Taking the time to do this showed he cared and it's why I cared to come back.
A Unique Atmosphere That is All Its Own
Sadly, it is a lot of the same crap here on the Jersey Shore. Similar food, similar high prices, and totally frustrating for a foodie like me. Sure some places are good but very few blow you away. Nobody seems to care though because they know people will come regardless.
Driving up to The Butcher's Block, you realize instantly that this is so not the case here. The entrance/picnic area with it's reclaimed wood and brick decor, over sized brick fireplace grill and well place flowered plants illuminate an old world feel that makes you instantly forget that you are in Long Branch. When you walk in, you are struck by the initial impression of how intricately designed this place is. The wood fired brick oven is in full view from the main part of the restaurant as is the espresso bar dubbed The Wharehouse.
There are little alcoves off to the side, each specifically named for their own unique character and all ensconced in old wood and brick. It is truly mesmerizing. As my wife and I sat for dinner at a live edge wood bar, you could hear others saying things like, "it reminds me of a little bit of Italy." Or, "it's a little like someplace in Vermont." This may all be the case, The Butcher's Block is a little bit of someplace for everyone, but it is A LOT of its own entity. Tom D'Ambrisi wanted to create a restaurant that was unique, and he nailed it! The atmosphere is unrivaled but it is the overall experience that will blow you away.
Welcoming You in and Treating You Like Family
Food is all about bringing people together. When you cook for someone, you are inviting them into your life and your passion." - Carolina Diaz
I have only known Tom for about two weeks, having met him for the first time on my lunch visit and then again when my wife and I returned for dinner, but you would never know it. He treated us like we have been friends our whole life. Checking in on us throughout our dinner, taking the time to chat and tell us more about his vision, accompanying me to the butcher and personally choosing the tomahawk steak with the best marbling...it is really quite impressive. However, this is the norm. His whole staff is like that, perhaps because everyone from the chefs to those busing tables has a personal connection to his story. From our waiter Jake who did actually grow up with him to Dean, the man who had a hand in designing the interior from scratch and can whip you up a cappuccino that is to die for, you are welcomed in and made to feel like family from the start. This is a perception that is only enhanced by how passionate they are about the food they are serving and just how good it really is.
A Menu So Good It is Tough to Even Choose
The menu is so tantalizing it is really difficult to chose. The Fried Balls were a must, as was the Slab of Pork for appetizers. The mouthwatering meatballs lightly sauced in pesto and the beautifully cooked pork belly drizzled with a hot honey were a welcome distraction as my wife and I went back and forth between the entrees on the menu and the notion of choosing our own cut of beef. Either would have been a worthy choice and I must go back to have the Berkshire Pork Chop that I so desired but in the end it is just too hard to turn down personally choosing a steak that looks that good. Ultimately the decision was made and the two and a half pound Tomahawk Steak went marching by enroute to being seared off perfectly in the aforementioned wood fired oven. Let's just say, our choice proved to be a great one.
Having been the beneficiary of many press trips to places like Colorado, Utah and Vermont and eaten in high end restaurants where steaks like this are the norm, I can honestly say that this was the best that I have ever had. Cooking a steak to a perfect medium rare is a skill unto itself, doing so in a wood fired oven is even more impressive. Yet there sitting right in front of us was a well charred, but perfectly medium rare steak. From the first bite to the last, it was melt in your mouth good. So good, in fact, I could not get enough and actually carved some slivers off the bone in the end, just to be gluttonous. The true level of overindulgence came when we ordered the brown butter cookies topped with copious amounts of ice cream, whipped cream and caramel.
"My God, these guys even do dessert well," I said to my wife. It is truly fascinating to be open for only about two months and be that on point with the food, the service, the experience. This is something we discussed ad nauseum over our decadent cappuccino, lingering for a while, not wanting our night out to end.
Telling a Story With A Dining Experience That You Won't Want to Leave
There is something to be said for a dining experience so good you don't want to leave. Maybe that is why the restaurant was packed the entire night abuzz with patrons who could not stop raving about the place. Truth is, we need more restaurants like this on the Jersey Shore. Places whose food tell a story, a story about family and friends of which you are a part of the instant you walk in. Places like The Butcher's Block. Why? Because...
Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself. – Anthony Bourdain