With a year of business under its belt, a South Front eatery is leaning into a playful direction with a focus on shareable snacks, late-night offerings and a more communal and interactive environment.
True Blue Butcher and Barrel was always envisioned as a bar with a butcher shop, according to We Are True Blue restaurant group owner Bobby Zimmerman, who credited Butcher and Barrel’s location in the South Front District as a reason for that inclination. As Butcher and Barrel approached its first birthday in February, Zimmerman realized the business was operating more like a restaurant.
“It wants to be a bar. South Front wants it to be a bar,” Zimmerman said. “There are some great restaurants there, and True Blue Butcher and Barrel can be a great restaurant if you’re looking to have dinner and go catch a show at Greenfield … It can serve that purpose, but we want to have some fun.”
The business is still being reoriented, Zimmerman noted, but the monthslong, intentional process has revealed the changes are moving Butcher and Barrel in the right direction.
“We’re still transitioning. We want to make sure it’s really well done,” Zimmerman said. “But I think we’re at a point now where this is what True Blue Butcher and Barrel really is. It was never a rebrand by any means. It just kind of fortifies what the intention was.”
In the past two months, the menu at True Blue was revamped to encourage a more social or communal environment with an expanded array of snacks, sandwiches and more. New shareable fare includes tostones, crispy coins of fried green plantains served with black beans and avocado, and Elote Curled Corn, a unique spin on Mexican street corn in which the cob is cut into sections that curl when fried.
A Carolina Hot Chicken sandwich, featuring crispy chicken dry rubbed with a spicy Kashmiri chili seasoning counterbalanced with bright, tangy pickles, is one of the new handhelds alongside Zimmerman’s self-professed favorite, a banh mi topped with crispy North Carolina catfish, umami-rich black garlic aioli, pickled daikon, housemade kimchi and ginger-scallion sauce.
“It’s honestly kind of mind-blowing how delicious that really is,” Zimmerman said.
The new menu also reflects the concept’s synergy with Beat Street, Zimmerman’s newest venture in the Cargo District, with a selection of five tacos. Both Butcher and Barrel and Beat Street are products of Zimmerman’s culinary exploration during the pandemic, when he began experimenting with pop-up menus that featured many of the items now served at both eateries. These projects allow Zimmerman to expand the True Blue brand beyond the original True Blue Butcher and Table in the Forum, he noted.
“We love Table. It’s our flagship in our entire brand, and it inspires all of our brands every day,” Zimmerman said. “But this playful thing has been really fun.”
Like Butcher and Table, Butcher and Barrel is still grounded by its butcher shop, which is now the centerpiece of a more “consultative experience” where guests can travel to the butcher case (with a drink in hand, if they’re so inclined) and discuss their expectations for the steak in order to select the perfect cut.
This experience isn’t mandatory, but it helps underscore the business’s new vibes.
“Some people just want to sit there and enjoy the conversation and the company. But the environment itself lends to a little more social interaction, so I think people are very comfortable getting up and stepping away from their table,” Zimmerman said.
The butcher shop is also available for retail sales, which Zimmerman said include tips and tools to ensure customers can replicate a True Blue quality meal at home.
“We actually give you cooking instructions with every steak, whether you’re grilling it or searing it or roasting it. And we give you secret weapons: finishing salt and beef fat to baste it with,” Zimmerman said.
To encourage late-night visits, Butcher and Barrel has rolled out live jazz on Friday evenings, when the dining room is bathed in blue light in honor of the occasion. From 9-11 p.m., select shareable and handheld fare is marked down to $10 for guests to enjoy alongside the business’s selection of about 250 bourbons and whiskeys.
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