"Take a moment for yourself, there is no better place than here." That bit of Zen hubris is brought to you by the men's room wall at Son of a Butcher, a closely packed tavern that has adopted the familiar veneer of hipster meat-cutter chic that's been orthodox in Logan Square and other old-fangled zip codes for nearly a half decade. Signaled by taxidermy, ornately framed vintage photos, and old-timey signage, this well-worn shtick comes from owner Adolpho Garcia (Pearl Tavern, Heating & Cooling), whose grandparents actually worked the trade.
Naturally, you expect a predominance of dishes that will give vegetarians the heaves. One such spectacle is a ginger beer-braised beef neck, an enormous, ungainly hunk of muscle and bone that arrives with jasmine rice, curried cauliflower, toasted almonds, and pickled raisins. You and your cohort are meant to hunch over and peck away at the flesh like vultures. It has all the potential of a magnificent feast, but the dried-out beef begs for some kind of acidity—a tarter pickle, a sauce, a chutney—to lighten what very quickly becomes a burden.
There are a few such duds on the menu by chef Frank Valdez (ex-Mexique, Cafe des Architectes). The hog Wellington, pastry stuffed with pulled pork, is so heavy you could bowl a strike with it. Off the sandwich list, a "sausage" roll is loaded with pasty, bland kidney beans masquerading as a bratwurst. Dry meatballs, served in a bowl alongside shriveled mussels, approach the planetary density of Mercury.
These lapses are surprising in light of the facility Valdez displays elsewhere, accenting heavy, challenging meats with bright, sweet, or sour accents, very much in the mode of Stephanie Izard. You can taste this magic on a skewer of duck hearts, the bouncy organs slathered in an intensely floral lavender barbecue sauce and mounted on crisp greens and pickled cranberries. Roughly minced lamb tartare is sheathed in a minty aioli and given texture by smoked chickpeas and vibrancy by pickled fennel. The heat of a substantial and curious po'boy combo with crispy fried oysters and the thin, spicy Basque sausages known as chistorra is mitigated by cool cucumbers and tart yuzu. The beef tongue sandwich wears the guise of a gyro, with cilantro yogurt punching though the rich sliced muscle. A smoked whole fish of the day—sea bass, in my case—is dressed for summer with shavings of mango and watermelon radish and chunks of honeydew that absorb the animal's warm juices and soy seasoning. Even those unfortunate mussels and meatballs bathe in a bacony tomato and piquillo pepper ragout so bold my table mates ignored the mollusks and meat and simply soaked it all up with the stale pita bread that had come with other dishes.
A fried chicken confit sandwich is layered with umami agents like smoked cabbage, a black garlic glaze, and a miso-spiked mayo. These sandwiches come with very thin, irregularly cut, lightly fried scimitar-shaped fries that are among the more unique and tasty spuds I've come across lately.
For all this carnage, Valdez does right by vegetarians, featuring eight meatless dishes, a few of which are clever plays on more flesh-forward options. Witness "chicharrones" made from rice flour dredged through piquant salsa verde and giardiniera. "Cochinita pibil" hummus is stained orange with annatto and topped with pickled red onions.
Meanwhile wedges of pickled red strawberries and kumquats splay across a field of watercress enrobed in buttermilk dressing. Orbs of goat cheese rolled in coriander-scented batter wade in a pool of dark green apple compote. Roasted radishes and grilled peaches compete for attention in a thicket of peppery arugula in poppy-seed dressing.
Dessert options are limited to a small but respectable selection of Bang Bang pies, but Son of a Butcher is primarily a neighborhood bar, and the drinking is reasonable, with decent $10 cocktails such as the fruity, smoky mescal-and-blackberry Smoking Rose and the Angry Butcher, a similarly bracing potion of serrano-infused tequila, grapefruit, and Cointreau. All 12 labels on the wine list can be poured by the glass, and bottles top out at $36, while the beer list is much more varied and extensive, featuring a panoply of the latest craft obsessions.
But contrary to the men's room motto, I can think of better places to be while Valdez works out the kinks in his menu. v