After Spike Gjerde's last venture Shoo-Fly earned mixed reviews from City Paper ("Spike strikes an off note," Eats & Drinks, Nov. 6, 2013) and others, there was some talk around town that Gjerde and company might have spread themselves too thin. But Gjerde's new Remington butcher shop/restaurant, Parts & Labor (2600 N. Howard St.,  873-8887, partsandlaborbutchery.com), situated next to Single Carrot Theatre's new space, offers no evidence of weakness in the empire that started with Woodberry Kitchen. The attention to detail and hard work going on behind the scenes are evident on each plate served.
The place doesn't take long to suck you in. After walking into the beautifully industrial yet modern restaurant/butchery, you're instantly enveloped in the smell of the massive wood-burning hearth topped with sizzling meats and veggies.
In some ways, the space retains the gritty tire shop vibe of the previous occupants. There are dim LED lights hanging from the sweeping ceilings, a bevy of communal metal tables and chairs sitting along a wall of booths. While that may seem a bit dark, the space is literally brightened by the massive fire, and figuratively by soft accents of leather and wood and down-to-earth servers that can't help but get excited with you as you begin your choose-your-own-meat adventure.
The menu can be daunting at first—it's split into snacks, dry-aged butcher's cuts, varieties, salt house, salads, hearth veggies, sausages, sandwiches, and sides—but once you realize the prices are reasonable enough to try a bit of everything, it's easier to just let loose and go for the ride. This isn't your traditional app, entrée, dessert kind of place, and it's all the more enjoyable for it. We found ourselves sharing everything and exploring more exotic choices—something the faint of heart might not be willing to do if the menu offered only large plates.
We started with the spicy cheese snack ($5), a pimento-esque spread mixed with cheddar and quark cheese that made a light start to a meal that was about to go full-on meat porn—now might be a good time for vegetarians to look away.
We tried a plate of three selections from P&L's house-made charcuterie ($12). One was the "Beautiful Bastard," a mix of pork and beef served in slices that tasted like a more upscale bologna. Thinly sliced disks of liver sausage had a great mineral flavor you expect in liver, but could have been more substantial. The highlight of the plate was a polka-dot marbled Coppa that wasn't overly salty and sliced thinly enough to almost melt in your mouth.
The dry-aged bavette steak ($17), a non-traditional cut from near the cow's belly, was delivered a perfect medium rare (recommended temperatures are listed on the menu) atop a layer of homemade steak sauce and herb relish. The steak, a cut that's a bit chewier than tenderloin because of its fibrous nature, rewarded us with more flavor than more common cuts, and was elevated by the lightly sweet sauce and subtle herb mixture we happily mopped up with each slice.
The varieties section (organs and off-cuts), while intimidating, is worth exploring. The pickled trotter on rye ($9)—an open-faced sandwich layered with smoked ham, fish pepper mayo, pig's feet, and herb salad—was a borderline science project. Cooked down until falling off the bone, the pig's feet, our server told us, were then pressed into a loaf, pickled, and shaved onto the rye in a heaping mound.
On a return visit we tried the smoked ham hock ($24). Oh ham hock, sweet ham hock. How we bow down to you in pork-tastic prayer. We are not worthy of your excellence. Smoked, deep fried, glazed in nectarine juice, and then grilled on the hearth, this beast had heads turning as we tried to decide how to penetrate the caramelized, size-of-your-head hunk of meat. This was some Fred Flintstone shit here, with flavor to match—one of the best things we've had in a while.
In a futile attempt to improve our cholesterol count we ordered sides of hearth-cooked scallions ($7) and bok choy ($8). The former were amazingly charred and tender as we twirled them around our fork like veggie spaghetti. The bok choy, on the other hand, lacked any detectable flavor other than the bitterness of the loosely chopped cabbage and snap peas—the only miss of the night.
Although full, we made room for a sweet, yet tart slice of homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie ($8), topped with buttery sugar crumbles and a thick dollop of whipped cream, which reminded us of something we would tuck into at grandma's house. It made for an ideal cap to a night at P&L, where the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. ¿
Parts & Labor is open Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.Copyright © 2015, Baltimore City Paper