I have a confession: I’ve gone paleo. Yes, yours truly, a former pescetarian who loves nothing more than sugar, bread, and cheese, now subsists on fish, meat, veggies, fruit, and nuts.
Paleo—the lifestyle advocated by CrossFitters and health junkies—forsakes anything created after the advent of agriculture: sugar, dairy, gluten, and legumes. Obviously, this flies out the window come brunch and the weekend, but, hey, nobody’s perfect.
When I was little, they called me the carne kid, as I grew up eating steak and even got my start by teething on steakbones in Argentina, the beef capital of the world. I made several begotten attempts at vegetarianism, given that I love animals as much as I love steak—essentially, my life has been one big ethical dilemma.
My most recent bout of vegetarianism lasted seven years, until New Year’s Eve, when I thought I’d experiment with paleo. Of course, there is no better place to commemorate such a transition and reinvigorate your love of meat than Urban Butcher, a new restaurant and butcher in Silver Spring.
The Bitches were invited in for brunch, so Emily and I hopped in her hubbie’s car and headed north where Monica, our other brunch compatriot, was waiting.
From the moment we entered, I was absolutely enchanted by the decor, which is industrial meets Victorian. Truly, the space is a converted garage—with cement floors, chain link fences, and an entire wall of garage doors that, when this winter finally comes to a close, will allow for great al fresco dining.
Inside, however, the furniture is Victorian apartment-esque, with old Persian rugs, floor lamps, mismatched couches, tufted arm chairs, and settees scattered about. There’s a lot happening in the large space.
As you walk further back, there is a chalkboard wall above a long high-top seating area, and further back, a long bar where you can sit and enjoy coffee or craft cocktails. There’s a meat counter alongside the open kitchen, where the chefs and line cooks busily prepare the brunch fare as diners look on.
We immediately noticed how warm and welcoming the restaurant is. Customers coming in and out all greeted one another and the staff like old friends—it was clear that Urban Butcher is quickly becoming a neighborhood spot in Silver Spring, fulfilling a need for the neighborhood’s residents: accessible gourmet cuisine in a great ambiance.
Surveying the specials written cheekily in chalk on the wall, we began our brunch with confidence, ordering our two favorite things: strong, craft cocktails, and fresh oysters.
First came the spirits: a spicy, flavorful Bloody Mary for Em and a whiskey, lemonade, rosemary cocktail for me. Shortly thereafter, a dozen, fresh Blue Point oysters on a tray of ice were placed on our vintage embezzled marble coffee table.
My eyes immediately seized upon the empanadas, my favorite food as a result of a childhood in Buenos Aires. We would soon encounter the chef, Raynold, who is Cuban, but these empanadas were very much the Argentine variety, pinched around the edges and fried just like my Mama makes.
Filled with ground beef and chopped olives in a tomato sauce, these heavenly meat pies were served with a side of chimichurri dipping sauce. Damn, those empanadas were good. So good that I ate whatever Emily and Monica didn’t want without thinking twice.
Then, Chef Raynold arrived alongside our table, brandishing an enormous tray of house-cured meats, local gourmet cheeses, accoutrements, and fresh, hot, grilled bread. Served on butcher’s paper, perfect for labeling, the glorious tray featured Bonne Bouche, a soft goats milk cheese from Vermont Creamery; Cabra la Mancha, a semi-firm goat’s milk cheese from Firefly Farm, Maryland; and Shepherd’s Blend, a cow, goat, and sheep milk cheese from Sid Cook, Wisconsin, my personal favorite.
The meats we sampled were the lomo de lardo, a porcini salami, and a fennel salami, which Emily and I both loved. Emily even brought some home for her hubbie. The charcuterie plate was impeccably curated, with house-cured meats and rich, cheese paired with hunks of warm bread.
“I can’t eat the bread,” I said to Chef Raynold as he placed it in front of us. Bread is not paleo. “But you must. You do not understand. It is the best,” he explained in a heavy Spanish accent. Charming yet authoritative.
Putting up a meager argument, I bit into a hot, fluffy slice of grilled bread. It was, in fact, heavenly.
Did I mention? I am struggling quite a bit with the ethical components of eating animals again. At present, my meat habits include going to Whole Foods and peppering the individual behind the meat counter with a series of questions concerning the health and happiness of the cow I am about to consume. Then, I depart with a $25 steak that is a five-out-of-five on the humane treatment index.
Well, brunch at Urban Butcher was like electric shock therapy for a vegetarian-turned-paleo and/or confused carnivore. Slouching on the arm of the couch alongside our table, Chef Raynold giddily detailed the curation of each house-made sausage
Departing momentarily, he returned brandishing a pen and paper, drawing a photo of a cute little pig, and detailing the sources of the various cuts of meat. “Here’s where the lomo comes from,” he said, circling the relevant part of the poor little piglet. I sat, slack-jawed and horrified.
Shortly thereafter, he ushered us through a quick tour of the restaurant to the meat fridge, where I stood shivering amid hanging body parts of cows, pigs, and ducks that would soon be turned into delicious sausages, salamis, prosciuttos, and other cured meats. Desperate not to look like a lunatic, I held back tears and overtly sensitive commentary.
By the time the entrees arrived, I had completely forgotten that we had more food arriving. I was absolutely satiated when an enormous cast-iron skillet arrived filled with smoking hot hanger steak and overflowing with frites. The smoke was actually emanating from the garlic butter put onto the skillet, which added another layer of richness to the juicy, soft steak.
After re-immersing myself back into the world of meat, steak is the first place I turn, opting for steak frites at brunch, lunch, and dinner, whenever it is available. In my limited carnivorous experience, I have to say, Urban Butcher’s steak was perfection.
The fries were unbelievably salty and crispy, like a gourmet take on boardwalk fries. These frites are a close second behind Granville Moore’s French fries, which I am convinced—after thorough research—are the best in the world.
Always one to think healthy, Emily ordered one of three omelet choices on the menu, opting for the broccoli rabe, caramelized onions, and goat cheese. There were substantial dollops of goat cheese throughout the dish, making it more decadent than your run-of-the-mill omelet.
The entree was served with home fries and a light, refreshing side salad. The greens were incredibly fresh and the dressing light, a necessity with all the heavy food on the table and a pleasant surprise given the hearty nature of the cuisine.
Our third brunch companion, Monica, ordered the brioche French toast, served with a dark berry compote, chili pepper, and maple syrup butter. I absolutely love it when restaurants serve a butter-syrup flavored concoction rather than simply syrup.
Urban Butcher’s extensive menu has lots of signature touches and unique flavors, which makes it a dining adventure. Despite Chef Raynold’s propensity to take risks, everything we tried was delicious. However, there’s no need for more than one plate, as the portion sizes are quite large.
The Bitches say: A+. From the ambiance to the service to the top-notch grub, Urban Butcher’s brunch can’t be beat. Carnivore or vegetarian, there are options for everyone.
8226 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, Md.
Urban Butcher serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.