Butterjoint aims to satisfy patrons' quality meat, drink and food needs

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

One of Pittsburgh's best restaurants, by any measure, is Legume Bistro in Oakland. Chef Trevett Hooper, who runs Legume with his wife, Sarah, has always found room for improvement, ever since the restaurant began in a tiny storefront in Regent Square.

This time, that room for improvement was literally a room.

Legume's new Oakland location had a small barroom adjacent to the dining room. Its size didn't seem to be an impediment — diners automatically started congregating there while waiting for tables, even if only for a minute or two. With some imagination, a new menu, and a little construction, came Butterjoint.

Butterjoint, named for a type of brickwork masonry, treads lightly on the senses with dim lighting and a classic palette of dark wood and leather. It's cozy and familiar, yet still a bit classier than expected, with a refreshing lack of blaring televisions and excess sports memorabilia.

There's an appropriately smart-looking list of beers and cocktails. But the point of Butterjoint is really the food. It was a way to build on Legume's strengths in the kitchen, and make a play for more-frequent repeat business.

“We just have so many core, loyal customers, who we wanted to see more often,” Hooper says. “A lot of people might come once a month, or once a season, or once a year. We wanted something more casual — people could just drop by — but get the same care, experience, quality meats and foods that we're doing at Legume. There's really no compromise in terms of food. It's just really a lot simpler.”

Hooper is a big proponent of whole-animal cooking — using as much of the animal as possible — and local meats in particular.

“Since October, 100 percent of the pork and beef and lamb we've served (at Legume) — almost everything, save some antelope that we served on New Year's Eve — has been from Western PA,” Hooper says. “In order to meet our goals to serve nothing but local animals, we needed to sell a lot of hamburgers, sausages and ground meats. That's why the menu for the Butterjoint is the way it is. It's helping Legume be a better restaurant. It's helping us take our commitment to local foods further.”

There are homemade potato and farmer's cheese pierogies ($7), to which one can add house-made sausage for $5 more, and/or sauerkraut for $1 more. There's an entire section on the menu for “Things Fried in Tallow,” like French Fries with Aioli ($4), Sauerkraut Balls with Honey-mustard Mayo ($4), and Daikon Pickles with Miso Dip ($4).

“Most of the time, we render our own beef tallow from beef suet,” Hooper says. “Certain times a year, there's a shortage, but 48 weeks a year, we have plenty of beef tallow. It's delicious. But for me, it's more that it's easier to digest, and more nutrient-rich than canola oil. Whenever I eat stuff fried in vegetable oil, my face breaks out and I get the sweats.”

There's also a section called “Pickles ‘N Stuff,” featuring a Sour Cucumber Pickle ($2), Hakurei Turnip Pickle ($2), Vinegar Green Tomato Pickle, and even the Korean dish Young Bok Choy Kimchi ($2). The Pickle Platter sampler is $8.

“We do all kinds of preserving vegetables throughout the year,” Hooper says. “A lot of lacto-fermentation, and traditional vinegar-style pickles. Just today, we stated working on miso pickles. We're trying to pickle some eggs in miso that we made, which has been aging since July.”

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