Butcher Station Carves Out New Niche
By Warren Rojas / Photography by Kate Bohler
The world of high-end dining is currently enthralled by all things molecular gastronomy—a 25-cent word for the practice of, well, what most call cooking.
We’re more fascinated by the fact that a former biochemist is now preparing crepes and slow-roasting pork alongside her brother, a self-trained butcher, way in the back of a sleepy Winchester shopping plaza.
Sibling chefs Sandy Gallaher and Jim Parks don’t necessarily view themselves as epicurean trailblazers. But by virtue of following their career-changing dreams and founding the cooperatively run Butcher Station in May 2011, the duo have genuinely altered the ingredient gathering and casual dining landscape within their local foodshed.
“Our prices do not compete with Costco or Martin’s! Their products do not compete with ours!” the pair proclaim on the blackboard laundry listing their current slate of custom-trimmed meats, seafood and poultry.
The butcher’s case, which remains the purview of seasoned hospitality vet Parks, displays a cavalcade of carnivorous splendors, including: house-made Italian and breakfast sausage, chorizo, pork belly, top sirloin, tri-tip, ground sirloin, Kunzler bacon, corvina, wild sockeye salmon and other seasonal scores. The pair pride themselves on buying local, turning to neighboring (White Hall) Angus beef baron Carl DeHaven for the majority of their meats, Briar’s Farmstead (Boyce) for their poultry, High View Farm (Berryville) for farm-fresh eggs, Trickling Springs Creamery (Pennsylvania) for dairy and United Shellfish (Maryland) for seafood.
“We live in a fantastic area and believe in taking advantage of it,” Parks says of their abiding commitment to locavorism.
The deli case is equally inviting, showcasing a treasure trove of ready-made sides and spices ranging from pantry staples like fresh lard and house-brined bread and butter pickles to exotic extras like hickory smoked sea salt and fresh green lentils.
Parks listed their dry-aged ground beef, hand-carved rib eyes and porterhouse steaks, and bottles of fresh Trickling Springs milk as perennial top sellers, though their house-smoked sausage is quickly becoming the stuff of legend. “Andouille sells almost as soon as it is done smoking if not before,” he warns of the highly prized pork product.
In terms of custom orders, Parks recalls being prodded to track down fresh moose meat. Gallagher, meanwhile, says they’ve experienced some ups and downs with fresh veal (languished after a swell of pre-orders, then flew off the shelves when bundled into a meatloaf mix).
Of course, they can be forgiven a few missteps considering this entire process only really began taking shape back in 2009.
At the time, Parks was rounding out his second decade of bouncing around the restaurant scene, a career track that began with his flipping burgers on the Rehoboth boardwalk. But what started out as just another job eventually blossomed into an insatiable desire to master every facet of meal assembly.
“I collected and read any manner of cookbook I could find and tried every new style, region and tactic I was exposed to. I worked as the pantry chef, line cook and sous chef of some of my area’s finest restaurants. Trial after trial, I would try to duplicate the masters,” he says of his all-consuming quest.
Gallagher, likewise, began doing some soul-searching of her own following the birth of her first child in 2004. A return to the field of medical research became untenable. Instead, Gallagher elected to pursue an entirely new path: personal cheffing. “Having been a commuter who often wanted great fresh food, but was just exhausted when I arrived home, I decided to combine my desire to care for people and my passion for food into a new career,” she shares.
The nascent entrepreneurs eventually decided to join forces, and have subsequently built a loyal following among those who prize having a connection to their food above loyalty discounts or bulk shopping rates.
The shop is as modest as they come, boasting approximately a half-dozen tables, log-wrapped walls (very hunting lodge) and a sole, neatly tended book shelf stocked with back issues of Saveur, Gourmet and Fine Cooking, as well as copies of “Jamie’s Food Revolution” (progressive) and “The Southern Junior League Cookbook” (retro).
The carte, which Parks largely designs but Gallagher customarily executes, focuses on gourmet sandwiches, wraps and crepes plus a smattering of heartier offerings (pulled-pork barbecue, half-pound burgers).
House-made chili summons an OK brew of ground beef, kidney beans and saucy tomatoes. A side of spot-fried tortilla chips was toasty warm; though, we would have preferred to have had the crunchy complement shredded and incorporated into the chili.
The simple breakfast wrap is elevated to savory powerhouse courtesy of scrambled eggs tossed with wilted Swiss chard, chopped bacon, diced onions and melted baby Swiss. The loosely wrapped, slightly drippy bundle does right by all the collected ingredients. Not to mention that it’s a hell of a way to up your vegetable intake without sacrificing any of the other breakfast proteins we all so passionately enjoy.
Pork proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. We were smitten by the Mediterranean flourishes packed into one such number. The unconventional sandwich begins with a generous helping of freshly shaved pork, the meat carefully trimmed of excess fat but still mouthwateringly juicy. The real fun, however, begins when one discovers the briny olive salad. And then the creamy wonder that is the spice-infused hummus. And then the mellowing Muenster.
Their attempt at traditional barbecue, on the other hand, was too clever for its own good. The slow-cooked swine is braised in a coffee-cider vinegar bath that definitely tenderizes but does not effectively cling to the meat, producing surprisingly bland bites of shredded pork. Luckily, Gallagher rounds out each order with your choice of Golden Blends Barbecue Sauce. (The fabulously spicy, tomato-based Black Powder Blend gets our vote; native North Carolinians will likely tilt their heads toward the vinegar-packed Dry County Dip.)
Beef fared consistently better. Grilled roast beef marches out enrobed in roasted peppers, caramelized onions, more melted Swiss and tangy horseradish mayo, the surrounding slices of au jus-soaked rye doing their damndest to contain the salty, meaty, piquant experience within. The top-tier burger was pretty no frills but still wholly satisfying, rolling out a sizeable slab of cooked-to-order organic beef conservatively dressed with mayo, mustard, pickles, tomato and lettuce.
Seafood made us smile, whether it was a salmon burger bolstered by teriyaki sauce and spring onions or toothsome crab cakes threaded with carefully measured spice.
Parks promises that more tongue-teasing options are coming in 2012, like marinated calamari and arugula salads tossed in smoky tomato emulsions. Interactive cooking tutorials are also ahead. “Come hungry for food—and knowledge,” Parks counsels.
The Butcher Station
3107 Valley Ave., Suite 106, Winchester; 540-662-2433; www.thebutcherstation.com
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday.
Average entree: under $12 ($).