459 E. Pleasant St., 414-323-7372
Main dishes $17-$49
Ayear has passed and the brand-spanking-new luster may have worn off of Birch + Butcher, but “polishing and honing” are as important as ever, owner Miles Borghgraef explains. “Every two months we have a major epiphany” about the hearth, the wood-fueled cooking apparatus that dictates a majority of what goes on the plate – breads and vegetables to meats and fish. One of the latest revelations Borghgraef names is how he and his cooks start the hearth fire. With a hair dryer. The first few months, they would blow on the embers. That changed when they moved to fans that emit fresh oxygen. “At seven months,” says Borghgraef, “It was, ‘Forget those silly fans! Let’s do the blow dryer.’” And that was that.
The hearth also is the vehicle for discovery. “I’ve been digging deep,” he says of his experimentation, even using a “red-hot” poker to finish off an apple brandy cocktail. Briefly inserting it into the drink “causes it to boil violently, caramelizing the sugar . ... We see [the hearth] as a tool that allows us to grow.” Heartier plates have come to the menu this fall, dishes that keep a meat or vegetable as the focal point, accompanied by a bright, defining sauce or rub and the spark coming from fresh herbs and a finishing oil. Nothing is crazy hard. They let the ingredients speak. Such as: coriander spare ribs with orange and chile, wild hare rillette with apple and fennel, and beef tartare with mustards and shoestring potatoes.