130928-MARIETTA-GA- Jenny Turknetts review of The Butcher, The Baker on the square in Marietta on Saturday September 28, 2013. FOOD: pork belly, peach bourbon jam, cheddar grits. BECKY STEIN)
Photo: Becky Stein
Photo: Becky Stein

A fresh, new voice on Marietta Square

I don’t dangle Easter eggs from the limbs of my cherry trees each spring. I don’t adorn my lawn with 5-foot blow-up snow globes at Christmas. No faux spider webs stretch across my front porch at Halloween. I’m not a theme neighbor.

Kitschy holiday lawn displays aren’t my style, but I relish seasonal expressions of the culinary sort. I’m talking flavors like cinnamon and cider in fall and icy peppermint chocolate in the winter. I’ll admit I’m not above a good pumpkin spice latte.

This time of year, as the air turns brisk, we begin to see fall produce like apples, persimmons, butternut squash and pumpkin hit menus. In true farm-to-table style, many of our restaurants embrace the season’s bounty, weaving it into dishes. Yet few go full-on fall like The Butcher the Baker, a trendy newcomer to Marietta Square.

The husband and wife team of Micah and Katie Pfister opened this restaurant last spring. The two originally met while working at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago — Bachelor Gulch in Colorado. After relocating to Atlanta, they spent time in the kitchen of Empire State South, Micah (our butcher) as sous chef and Katie (our baker) in pastry.

Opening a restaurant in Marietta was a return home for Katie, an area native. Upon arriving, she recognized a demographic shift. With a youthful crowd beginning to populate the area, Katie said that she and Micah hoped to create something “fun, unique and very different” that would draw both the longtime Marietta residents and the younger generation of diners.

Big win for the Pfisters. What they created was a fresh new space with broad appeal. The Butcher the Baker asserts its unique voice on the square. Everyone is here by choice, not by default.

Every aspect, from the decor to the vibe to the cuisine, feels current. The dining room is swathed in rustic Southern touches like Mason jar drop lighting and weathered wood tables and flooring. And once you get past the inexperienced hostesses, you’ll find the servers enthusiastic and ready to chat you up about the menu with a vigor rivaling only your best foodie friends.

The rather large menu is built around local produce, much of which comes from four of the local farmers selling their harvest at the Marietta Square Farmers Market. Small plates dominate offerings, but a solid six entrees level the scale.

It’s those entrees that lead me to recommend you break my restaurant rule of thumb: A few small plates paired with wine makes for the safest path to a satisfying meal. That’s generally my advice. But, I’m not sticking to it at The Butcher the Baker, where you’ll find the entrees more composed and creative.

Case in point: the simple but well-balanced pork loin ($22) topped with a succotash of corn, okra and green beans, all lightly browned to extract maximum flavor. Tender slices of salted pork serve as a blank canvas for the lovely vegetable medley awash with a deeply rich tomato water. Sadly, we will say goodbye to this dish as tomato season wanes.

The bright side is that with the new fall menu you can indulge in those seasonal flavors the Pfister way. Start with the Monte Carlo Sour, a deep rose-colored potion made with brandy, amaretto, lime and Cabernet Sauvignon. It will pair nicely with the farm greens ($7) tossed with curled strips of fried kabocha squash and thick chips of parmigiano to set off the pumpkin pie-spiced vinaigrette.

Dishes that seem simple offer surprising complexity. A steak isn’t just a steak with the perfectly salted and charred Brasstown strip ($28). The dish pulls in a range of flavors with its combo of charred okra slices, lightly battered fried pickled okra, a swipe of sweet potato puree and a pile of al dente sweet potato greens. It just works.

The skill of unifying what might be considered an alarmingly high number of components doesn’t elude Micah Pfister. Such is the case with the buttery soft Bartlett Farm ($22) trout sharing the plate with tiny spaetzel, tangy strips of kale, creamy eggplant puree and a little surprise side dollop of brown butter chow chow. Layering of flavors and textures comes easily here.

At least, that holds true for the entrees. The small plates vary, almost as if they have been created by a different chef. One of the best options is the crackled pork belly ($9) over a loose puddle of cheddary grits made looser by a massive heap of melting, sugary bourbon-peach jam.

Meanwhile, our baker is at play, beginning each day bright and early to bake all the house-made breads. Each table receives a generous basket of baker’s yeast buns and a daily focaccia flavored with ingredients like garlic, onion and parmesan. It’s a shame that these beautiful buns come a little too brown, a little too crisp and a little too dry, as if they have been held in the warmer a bit too long.

Let’s turn her loose in the dessert kitchen. She speaks my language with apples, cider, pumpkins and maple. The warm apple spiced gateau de honey ($7) melds into a swirl of hard apple cider and melty caramel ice cream. I’m not sure which is better, that or the maple pot de creme ($7) made with roasted pumpkin and accented with a fried pumpkin chip and toasty pumpkin seeds. Get your theme foodie on.

Let’s indulge in fall at The Butcher the Baker. And then, as fall turns into winter, we’ll be drawn back to Marietta Square to get warmed up from the inside out.

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