If you want to understand what chef and restaurant owner Chris Bolyard means when he says he approaches butchery from a cook's perspective, you should try his fried bologna sandwich.
As close to the thin, pasty, red-synthetic-casing-wrapped meat found in the grocery store's deli case as canned ham is to prosciutto di Parma, the version served at Bolyard's Meat & Provisions is revelatory. What would typically be thought of as throwaway cuts from breaking down a cow are transformed into stunning hunks of sliced meat with a rustic texture akin to a summer sausage. Garlicky, salty and about a quarter inch in thickness, the beef, pork and bacon concoction is stacked onto grilled sourdough bread with molten American cheese and rich remoulade sauce like an impossibly gooey grilled cheese. Chow chow, composed of pickled vegetables, and briny dill pickles take a sandwich that could have been overly decadent and balance it with their vibrant, vinegary taste. No mere culinary mortal could give a glow-up of this magnitude to such an oft-disregarded processed meat.
See all of RFT food critic Cheryl Baehr's restaurant reviews
To take such humble, lesser-used cuts of meat and turn them into something magical is why Bolyard, together with his wife, Abbie, opened Bolyard's in the first place. A Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, Bolyard never set out to be a butcher, instead launching his career in fine-dining restaurants, including the acclaimed Sidney Street Cafe under James Beard Award-winning chef Kevin Nashan. There, Bolyard served as Nashan's sous chef and was exposed to whole-animal butchery and charcuterie-making — skills that were personally satisfying but also opened his eyes to an ethos of sustainability and the importance of using the entire animal in a variety of creative ways.
Opening a restaurant was always something he and Abbie had dreamed of, but the more he got to thinking about where they could make the biggest impact, the more their ideas coalesced around a butcher shop. In 2014, they took the leap and opened the original Bolyard's Meat & Provisions in a small storefront in Maplewood, where they immediately garnered a reputation as the place in town to go for the highest-quality humanely raised meat you could find.
A small sandwich counter was part of their operation from the get-go, but they had always wanted to do more than the space would allow. That realization led them to think about expanding, and when they heard that the former Dubliner building right up the street was available, they decided to expand both their butchery offerings and menu, turning Bolyard's into a full-fledged restaurant and butcher shop.
The new digs opened this past May, creating what Bolyard describes as a hybrid between the butchery work he has been doing for the past seven years and his prior experience cooking in restaurants. To him, Abbie and his staff, the differences between the new and old spaces are significant, but to the guest, the experience feels comfortably familiar. Like at the original location, the place is outfitted in white subway tile; a chalk menu, written in the same font as it has been since 2014, advertises available meat cuts, and the stocked butcher case still shows off the shop's wares.
At the new space, black and white butchery-themed wallpaper adorns the walls, and light brown leather stools line the front windows for counter seating. The center of the dining room is filled with spaced-apart tables and chairs, and additional dine-in space is available on the front patio.
If the bologna sandwich traces an outline of what Bolyard's is about, the restaurant's other dishes fill in that picture. The Pig Pen is a wonderful, Cantonese-barbecue-inspired dish featuring succulent pork char siu that is so slow-cooked it's almost the silken texture of rillette. Earthy gochujang mayonnaise accents the meat, and sweet and sour cabbage cuts through the richness for a beautiful contrast of temperature and flavor.
The steak sandwich is another outstanding addition to Bolyard's repertoire. Here, grilled cuts of mock tender, heel and blade are placed atop crusty ciabatta and generously adorned with horseradish cream, pickled red onions and blue cheese; it's the steak sandwich that haunts your dreams when you are craving a steak sandwich.
Similarly, the Umami Burger is what you're looking for when you want a cheeseburger — even if you don't know it. Two perfectly seasoned, thin smashed patties that get that gorgeous crispy meat lace around the edges are paired with raclette cheese; that gives you goo, but also a glorious punch of funk that you don't get from standard American or cheddar. Mushroom conserva and arugula add a touch of elegance, and umami aioli rounds out this powerful flavor bomb. Paired with a side of crisp golden fries, cooked in beef tallow to give them a deep, rich flavor, it's one of the classiest burgers and fries you'll ever have.
The Tom Tom also exemplifies how Bolyard's can take a ubiquitous dish — in this case a turkey and cheese sandwich — and turn it into something spectacular. Here, the difference-maker is the sauce, a mouthwatering concoction of mayonnaise infused with spicy 'nduja sausage. It seems like such a simple touch, but it takes a standard sandwich and gives it a wonderful complexity.
Bolyard's offers accompaniments to its sandwiches including outstanding, dill-flecked potato salad and crunchy, housemade pork rinds that, when tossed in the optional ranch seasoning, take on the flavor of a porky Cool Ranch Dorito. A summer salad, comprising heirloom tomatoes, cucumber and compressed watermelon and bresaola, is dressed with pistachio pesto and ricotta salata, and is so gorgeous, it could just as easily be on Sidney Street Cafe's white tablecloths as on the wooden window counter at Bolyard's. Posloe is another must-try dish; the tomato-based stew, chock-full of pork and hominy, is both rich and bright at the same time — a delicate balance that shows the thoughtfulness that Bolyard and his chef, Remi Didry, put into everything they do.
It's that thoughtfulness — or "cook's approach" in Bolyard's terms — that makes the second iteration of Bolyard's Meat & Provisions such a special addition to the city's food scene, one that will surely be influencing how and what we eat for years to come.
Bolyard's Meat & Provisions
2733 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-647-2567.
Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Fried bologna $13.
Umami Burger $11.
Pig Pen $10.
We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]