Bavette La Boucherie
An old world-styled shop in the Third Ward strives for the charm of French butcher shops.
Bavette La Boucherie opened May 1 in the Historic Third Ward, on the north side of Menomonee Street facing, appropriately, Catalano Square. The small park by that name is dedicated to the many Italian families who helped develop the neighborhood in the early part of the 20th century. Bavette La Boucherie is a butcher shop harkening back to those historic days when small, family-owned stores dotted many corners in the Third Ward. It offers artisan meats, fresh sausages made on-site and Wisconsin cheeses, all offered in an atmosphere of almost classic elegance.
The face of the shop is relatively nondescript, with one small, hand-painted sign above the glass outer walls. But, take just a few steps inside, and the aromas of smoked meats and fresh sausages confirm you’re in a place where quality products await. As for its name, Karen Bell, the owner, offers this explanation: “I’ve always loved the charm and feel of French butcher shops. And the word bavette is sometimes used here in English to refer to flank steak; I’ve always liked the word. And, I like that it is feminine sounding and different.”
Bell spent many years working as a chef in the Milwaukee area, most recently at the Café at the Plaza. She decided in the last few years to open her own restaurant and had been looking for a suitable space. Yet she gravitated, little by little, toward the idea of opening a butcher shop, instead.
“Butchering is a dying craft,” Bell says. A desire to keep the craft from going away entirely, together with an interest in the overall politics of food, knowing where it’s coming from, joined in Bell’s mind to convince her Bavette La Boucherie was for her. “It combines cooking, that I still love to do, with an ability to link people with farmers,” she says. Bell hopes that Wisconsinites, who she says already care a great deal about the quality of their food, will appreciate how lucky we are here because of the plethora of farms and cattle nearby. One of the sources for the beef Bell butchers is Black Earth Meats in Black Earth, Wisconsin, in Dane County.
Bell notes that her shop focuses on offering heritage breeds of cattle and that all of the animals are grass-fed and pasture-raised. In the majority of the beef industry in the U.S. today, corn-fed cattle are the norm. Bell employs a butcher, but she also spent time in some butcher shops in Chicago in advance of her shop’s opening. She did a lot of self-tutoring from books and videos, too, so she would have a thorough understanding of the skill it takes to prepare meat.
Charcuterie, like the word bavette in the shop’s name, is another word with French origins. It describes the range of prepared meat products such as bacon, ham and sausage that now are enjoying a resurgence of interest by Milwaukee consumers and are available at Bavette La Boucherie. The smoked and cured products here come from three main sources: Bolzano Artisan Meats in Milwaukee, Underground Meats in Madison and Smoking Goose in Indianapolis, Indiana. Bavette La Boucherie makes all of its own fresh (not smoked) sausages in-house, and does the butchering of various cuts of meat. The cheeses on the menu all are Wisconsin-made, including the popular Willi Lehner’s Bandaged Cheddar, from the Bleu Mont Creamery in Bleu Mounds, Wisconsin. Bell’s been told that her shop is the only place in town that sells the cheese. Despite being open just a few weeks, Bavette La Boucherie already is drawing repeat customers, some of whom have remarked favorably on the Bandaged Cheddar.
There is nothing high-tech about this butcher shop, other than the tablets used as cash registers. That decision, according to Bell, was one of both economy and convenience. The sausage stuffer is, essentially, a large hand press, powered by humans. And then there are those hand-lettered signs on butcher paper. The overall look is one of uncluttered cleanliness.
The location of the shop, at 330 E. Menomonee Street, formerly was the home of Kafévino, a coffee/wine bar. Bell has obtained a license for outside seating, assuming the weather ever cooperates. She also obtained a liquor license, which will allow for wine tastings and pairings of wine with meat and cheese. Butchering classes are on Bell’s agenda for the near future, too.