Located near the corner of High Street and Euclid Avenue, Bear and the Butcher is a versatile eating and drinking establishment that specializes in high quality artisan meats.
The 4,000 square foot building, which has housed a number of businesses, but most recently Art Bar, was given a complete renovation. Tom Behr, who owns the building, worked with architect Jackie Stewart and contractor Eddie Turner, but the interior design was the work of himself and his two sons, Brett and Brian. Brett, who owns The Beer Trappe next door, explained that after a few disturbing incidents at the former Art Bar, his father wanted to buy the building and make it “something that neighborhood would be proud of –not ashamed of.” The Behrs’ inspiration came from restaurants and shops they visited while traveling to London and other areas of England. The emerald green glazed brick exterior imparts a unique look, and the interior has an industrial-chic vibe with two floors with an open atrium between them, reclaimed wood (sourced from a historic Virginia farm), and exposed brick and ductwork.
The main floor features a stainless steel, u-shaped bar that seats about 50 (the interior tile was sourced from the Old Crow distillery after their renovation), and in warmer weather, glass garage doors open onto a sidewalk patio. The upper level also seats about 50, with a neon “Chevy Chase” sign, oversized wall art depicting a bear, and an area for live music. More glass garage doors lead onto a 40-seat balcony overlooking Euclid Avenue.
Brett and Brian Behr opened the restaurant in August 2017 with the goal of offering fast casual fare such as tacos, sliders and house-made sausages and condiments to go with them, like house-made mustard, pickles and sauerkraut. Brett got his start in the restaurant industry by working at his father’s restaurant, Pazzo’s, which opened in 2000. He said that his family has always enjoyed trying new restaurants, both locally and on vacation. While out of town, they always try to find as many unique spots as possible and avoid chain restaurants.
“After opening The Beer Trappe, we saw an opportunity with the space next door, and I went into business with my brother Brian (who also owns The Village Idiot),” he said.
After running Bear & the Butcher for several months, Behr and his team received customer feedback that has led them to reinvent their concept a bit. “The food for the most part has been really well received,” he said, “but going forward, we are going to focus more on sit-down dining, servers, more entrees, and things of that nature.”
Executive Chef Jason Ritchey added that when they originally looked at the building, they had discussed doing a split concept in which the upstairs was more of a lounge, with a fast casual restaurant on the lower level. But things changed as they often do in the restaurant industry. “We kept adding more space, and the space was very nice,” he said. “So when we opened, we kept hearing people say, ‘We love the food, but the space is so nice that we expected a more refined experience’.” In the Chevy Chase area, he went on, many customers want the full dining experience—to be waited on and have a leisurely meal with friends and family. So he and the Behr brothers decided to expand the menu and give their customers what they want.
“We’ve taken a lot of our fast casual items and integrated those into the new menu, but we’ve also added things like steaks and chops."
Also, Ritchey explained, fast casual restaurants typically don’t seat as many people as Bear & the Butcher does, so the service may have been a bit slower than some were expecting. But now, customers can have the best of both worlds —anything from a quick bite to a full sit-down dining experience.
What they can’t get—despite the name—is cuts of meat by the pound. “The name is really just a play on words,” said Behr, explaining they’re not actually a butcher shop. They do, however, order whole animals (supplied by Blue Moon Farms of Richmond) and have a full butchering facility on the property. Ritchey said, “It gives us a better use of the animal. Instead of grinding up a pork chop, we can cut a nice pork chop from an animal that we got locally, and butchered here on site.”
Ritchey, a Georgetown native, got his start in the culinary industry by working for Jonathan’s at Gratz Park. A graduate of Sullivan University, he began working for The Village Idiot when it opened and was later brought on the team to build Bear & the Butcher’s menu from the ground up. He still cooks for The Village Idiot and has been tasked with updating and reinventing Pazzo’s menu as well.
The menu he created for Bear & the Butcher focuses on bratwurst made with pork and veal, spicy smoked chicken sausage, a sweet Italian pork sausage and a smoked beef and pork Texas hot link. It also includes a variety of sliders, like fried chicken, lamb and smoked brisket, plus pub burgers, street tacos, salads and desserts like the Bear Claw (sweet pastry, almond paste and rum icing) and for those wanting to keep the meat feast going, chocolate-covered bacon.
For their weekend brunch menu, Ritchey has tried to cross-utilize a lot of the dinner menu items, and one of the most popular items is a breakfast burrito with house made chorizo, egg and potatoes. They also offer a few different biscuit options—a smoked brisket biscuit with Cholula hollandaise, pickled red onion and our house smoked beef brisket with barbeque sauce. In addition, he says, they offer a twist on a biscuit sandwich called the Portland State Deluxe. “There’s a restaurant out west that does a really famous biscuit sandwich – and our version has fried chicken breast on it, with American cheese and bacon, and covered in sausage gravy. It’s fantastic.”
Ritchey also said that it came as a bit of a surprise, given the name of the restaurant, how many vegetarian and vegan requests he’s received. So he has included those in the new menu, but he’s incorporated them as dishes that are traditionally thought of as meat entrees. “We’re going to be doing a shepherd’s pie, but the base, instead of ground lamb, is going to be ground crimini mushrooms. And we’ve also got a Lexington pasta gnocchi with tarragon cream, Grana Padano cheese and English peas and shoots. It will be nice, coming into Spring, and we love the products that we get from Lexington pasta.”
For a veggie appetizer, they’re offering fried Japanese shishito peppers. “We’ll hit them with a really hot skillet and blister the skins, which softens them and gives them a little bit of a caramelized sweetness that you don’t get from the raw peppers,” he said. The peppers will be drizzled with sesame vinaigrette and served with creamy Sriacha mayo on the side.
Ritchey wants existing Bear & the Butcher customers to rest assured that their favorite items aren’t going anywhere. “Those items will be making their way onto the new menu,” he said. “We’re just adding more items and giving customers a fuller experience. Before, you could come in, get a couple of tacos, get a side, and that would be pretty much it. Now you can come in and lounge with your friends and get a full service meal with sharable items. It’s a broader range of experience.”
Q & A with Jason Ritchey and Brett Behr
Favorite food from your childhood?
Brett: My favorite food growing up was a filet cooked by my dad. My mom also made great sweet potatoes, green beans and pasta dishes.
Jason: BBQ ribs
Last thing you cooked for yourself at home?
Brett: I don’t cook a lot at home, but I recently cooked a honey garlic salmon dish that turned out well.
Favorite meat and way to prepare it?
Jason: Bone-in ribeye, grilled medium rare.
Current favorite ingredients?
Brett: I like to incorporate anything seasonal and local. That’s what our customers have been demanding more and more and I really think it helps make for a great product.
Favorite local spots?
Both: Obviously Pazzo’s and The Village Idiot. In addition to those, we like to support locally owned restaurants. Cole’s is my favorite place for special occasions. I also really like Corto Lima and obviously Bourbon n’ Toulouse as well.
Something in your fridge that would surprise people?
Jason: Pedialyte. I have a two-year old, plus it’s great for hangovers.
Bear & the Butcher
815 Euclid Avenue Lexington, KY, 40502
Monday - Thursday: 11am to 12:30am
Friday: 11am to 2am
Saturday: 10am to 2am
Sunday: 10am to 12am