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Butchers & Bakers: A Return To Scratch-Cooking Basics

It's been 11 years since Locals 8 Restaurant Group partners Al Gamble and Shawn Skehan built the first Plan B Burger Bar on Park Road in West Hartford. Since then, the "burgers-beer-bourbon" concept has expanded with two more Hartford County locations, a north-of-the-border restaurant in Springfield, and several more in Fairfield County, Washington, D.C., and Ashburn, Va. — nine in total.

Their latest project brings them home and steps back from burgers a bit. Butchers & Bakers opened in early April at The Exchange in Farmington, featuring a menu of new American-style fare with fresh ingredients. The new restaurant joins Locals 8's other holdings, The Half Door and Tisane Euro-Asian Cafe in Hartford.

Skehan is happy to execute a new project closer to home, calling upon local vendors and contractors they've known for decades.

"It's really fun to get back into that," he says. "This was exciting because it was more hands-on again, local favorites, doing a lot ourselves."

Butchers & Bakers replaces the former Maratta's Front Row sports bar and features a rustic feel with lots of reclaimed wood and exposed brick. The menu centers on hand-crafted, housemade and locally grown products. Large cuts of meat and fish are butchered in-house,

three full-time bakers produce breads, rolls and pastries, and the kitchen turns out housemade charcuterie and ricotta cheese. Fresh, organic produce comes from Urth Farms in New Britain, which Gamble owns, along with herbs and greens grown hydroponically on the Farmington restaurant property.

"It's more of a labor of love, from the chef standpoint," says Kevin Watson, executive chef and vice president of operations. "We just wanted to do something that got back to why we all started doing this, which is just the simplicity of the food."

Butchers & Bakers inherits Maratta's double coal-fired ovens, which

add unique heat, char and flavor to many of its dishes. Pizzas, small plates, larger entrees and pastas are baked or finished in these ovens, where the coal burns as hot as 1,100 degrees, Watson says.

"It's old-world technique; it's fire and clay and beautiful," Skehan says.

"It just does something to the flavors of those dishes," Watson says. "There's not a lot of places you can get that level of heat."

Coal-fired garlic bread ($6) made with house focaccia and gorgonzola cream, is the top-selling small plate, Skehan says, and other popular

items include blistered long peppers with ricotta salata, Peppadew coulis and sea salt ($9) and goat cheese with tomato and herb coulis ($7) which also gets the coal-oven treatment. Other plates include charcuterie and cheese boards ($11 to $13); local Blue Point Oysters ($3 apiece) and oyster crudo with watermelon granita ($10.)

Sharing plates ($11 to $16) feature fennel sausage-stuffed mushrooms with smoked mozzarella fondue, Venetian-style calamari with artichoke hearts, roasted pepper and sliced olives; red lentil hummus with crudité, smoked paprika lamb skewers and meatballs, with basil and housemade ricotta.

The meatballs will be a staple on the menu, even as other items rotate seasonally.

"We just wanted to make meatballs fun again, and famous and delicious, because they can be," Watson says. "They don't need to be pretentious, over the top … it's kind of refined comfort food if you will, but it's simplistic ingredients."

Pizzas ($11 to $14) are based on a fresh dough recipe made with a natural sour starter. Watson says the staff worked on the recipe "all day, every day, for 60 days to get the formulation that we wanted."

Popular sellers include the Butchers pie, with house-made fennel sausage and salami, sliced meatball and pork belly; others feature chicken with broccoli rabe and Alfredo sauce, assorted mushrooms with truffle oil and clams with soubise and Asiago. Watson says the pizza menu may be expanded with more signature pies as the menu is tweaked.

The best-selling entree has an element of daily surprise: a butchers' board ($20) with "today's cut" of meat, chef's presentation of farm veggies and housemade condiments. Watson says the protein offering depends on what the kitchen has butchered that day; in the past, the board has featured dry-aged top sirloin with swordfish kabob, lamb rack and pork tenderloin and ribs and skirt steak.

Skehan says other top entrees include the seared cowboy rib-eye steak ($28) with herb roasted fingerlings, garlic kale and housemade Worcestershire butter, and a 12-ounce pork chop brined in Angry Orchard cider and served with smoked sweet potato puree and cardamom sauteed Brussels sprouts. A half-chicken entree with

creamed farm greens and beet fries ($19) is also coal-fired, along with Valencia-style paella with shrimp, chicken, cod and cockles ($22) and a decadent four-cheese macaroni carbonara with pork belly ($17) arrives in a hot cast-iron skillet with a soft fried egg on top.

A new Sunday brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a continental breakfast buffet priced at $14 per person and other a la carte options ($8 to $19): made to order crepes and omelets, eggs Benedict, coal-fired Dutch baby pancakes with seasonal fruit and housemade corned beef hash.

Heartier brunch plates ($9 to $19) like the "Elvis" French toast with peanut butter, sliced banana and crème anglaise, and the Hangover Helper burger (house-ground beef, beef bacon, pepperoni, french fries and fried egg on house-made English muffin) intend to help erase a rough Saturday night. Brunch also features cocktails with $20 "bottomless" options, like white grapefruit mimosas and bellinis, and a Bloody Mary bar ($12) with custom mixes and toppings.

Butchers & Bakers' large patio, with a covered outdoor bar, ample seating and fire pits, is also expected to be a draw this summer.

Butchers & Bakers, 270 Farmington Ave., Farmington, is open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. 860-470-7414, butchersandbakers.com.

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