The best way to know if a place knows what they’re doing is by the maraschino cherry. If you order an old-fashioned that comes with a neon-red maraschino cherry, pour it out and leave. (The one exception to this rule is J. Alexander, which makes the world’s worst old-fashioned—they use the neon cherry to help accomplish this great feat—but the food is stellar). From now on you will see me either lead the review with “Luxardo” or “Maraschino.” It is the easiest litmus test for any restaurant. However, Butcher & Bee is so good that “Luxardo” does not suffice. Side note: I am open to ideas for the next-level litmus test that separates good places from excellent ones.
Every, single item on the menu (whether you enjoy it or not) is done the right way. You may not like tamari glaze paired with coconut on the “OG Carrots,” but you can sense that it is intentional and well executed (and that anybody who enjoys tamari glaze is going to love the hell out of these carrots). Do I know what tamari glaze is? I do not. But I know what bacon is. And I can tell you that for $5, you can have the two best-bacon wrapped dates you’ve ever had.
And therein lies the essence of this restaurant: it’s an adventurous menu that has a twist on classics, and every single item is used to its maximum potential. I didn’t think I liked butterkin squash or kale tabbouleh, but they proved me wrong. And once you realize how well they can make whipped feta, the rest of the menu instantly becomes fascinating, because you wonder what else they’re doing… and with what other food! While I can imagine meals that I do love more (because pizza and Oreos aren’t on the menu and I have trashy redneck roots), I cannot imagine a restaurant that consistently utilizes ingredients better than Butcher & Bee.
Architecturally, the restaurant doesn’t exactly feel like it has a flow; even the entrance is somewhat choppy and unwelcoming. But this, too, feels like it is almost done intentionally because when you get to your seat you inevitably realize that it is about your food, and your company, and nothing else. The minutia, like that awkward entryway, ceases to matter. The ambience is great. The crowd noise is minimal. The background sounds and sights are pleasant but neutral enough to only exist as complements rather than distractions. But the best feature of the environment is that most of where you can sit in the restaurant feels private and isolated which really draws you into the meal—and more importantly, the people—that you are with.
Butcher & Bee contributes to an emerging pattern in my head, which is that the best food in Nashville is on the East Side with the hipsters and the artists. Am I a hipster? I refuse to be categorized like that, which apparently is exactly what a hipster would say.