Enjoy some local flavor at Grass & Bone

The Butcher's Dip, with a bowl of jus (Photo by Marisa Nadolny)
The Butcher's Dip, with a bowl of jus (Photo by Marisa Nadolny)

If you can get past the visuals that a butcher shop named Grass & Bone conjures, you should make a mental note to check out the butcher shop and eatery on East Main Street in Mystic.

The folks at Grass & Bone, the same team behind the Oyster Club and the Engine Room, explains its name thus: “Meat that’s good to the bone starts with good grass. Good grass starts with good farmers.”

It’s the circle of life, after all, and Grass & Bone keeps that circle fairly small because its specialty is local meats and whole animal butchery. That means, aside from the fresh cuts of meat available for sale (steaks and roasts and locally raised and heritage breed meat among other items), Grass & Bone makes use of all parts of the buffalo, if you will, so customers also will find a selection of animal-based stocks and fats available for the savvy home chef.

What’s butchered and smoked in-house also becomes the star of the lunch and dinner menu in more ways than one. Yes, a super fresh roast beef sandwich is bound to stand out at a place like Grass & Bone, but the flavor profile of meat informs the rest of the menu, whether it’s in the Fat Roasted Potatoes ($5) or well curated sides that complement the main attraction. We couldn’t tell what sort of fat infused the perfectly roasted potatoes, but we did know that the combination of the two items is a winner, albeit a filling one.

As for the sandwich noted above, it’s called a Butcher’s Dip and includes warm beef and roasted pork, both tender and juicy, on outstanding focaccia-style bread. It’s served with a side of horseradish jus ($11), but here a “side” is actually a bowl of deeply flavorful broth that didn’t overdo it on the horseradish. Four of us dipped everything we could think of into the bowl, and we still had leftover jus when it was time to wrap up.

The Butcher’s Dip emerged a standout sandwich, as did the Rotisserie Chicken sammie ($10). As much as we love a basic chicken carver sandwich, Grass & Bone does the concept one better by mixing in aioli, arugula, and cranberry relish to create the greatest warm chicken salad ever served upon hearty, wonderful toasted bread (probably whole-wheat or grain, but it was tough to tell). The aioli only adds a nice texture and spice to the chicken mixture, and never overwhelms with too much moisture. The other ingredients add tasty highlights and texture. Recommended — particularly with the Buttery Mashed Potatoes ($5), which are exactly that and light as air. A side order was enough to provide four of us with repeated samplings.

As we ate our lunches, one of us determined that the word of the day was “intense,” as in the bold flavors of most of what we tried — from the clever addition of zesty Old Bay seasoning to the macaroni salad side ($5) to the smoked meats and even the dessert we tried. Indeed, the strong flavor of the smoked kielbasa sandwich ($10) put a few of us off, despite its great texture and delicious, buttery, soft and slightly toasted grinder roll. We enjoyed it in smaller doses, but, for my part, the flavor of the sausage and the sweetness of the accompanying house-made mustard was a little overwhelming, and I’m not sure I could make it through a whole sandwich. I might have done better with a more savory mustard. However, spice-hounds will love the kielbasa sandwich and the sauerkraut that also comes with the sandwich. I ordered mine on the side, as kraut also tends to overwhelm my taste receptors. I’m glad I did, because Grass & Bone’s kraut is no joke and powerfully pickle-y.

The side of corn bread with maple butter side I ordered ($5 for a large piece) proved useful on two fronts: it toned down the resulting cabbage flavor on my palate, and it was delicious. Be aware that a little maple butter goes a long way. The cornbread stands well on its own — it’s a sweeter and softer variety than some — but the maple butter amplifies the corn flavor in just the right way, so do try it.

Now, where the kielbasa sandwich was huge on flavor, the hand-carved roast beef sandwich ($12) somehow was not, even though its accompanying ingredients — garlic mayo, raw onion, (local) Melville cheese, and pickles — would suggest otherwise. The roast beef was certainly tender and nicely carved and, again, the roll upon which it was served stood out on its own, but everything else somehow got lost in the shuffle. If I hadn’t seen the pickles within, I wouldn’t have known they were there in terms of flavor. This sandwich fell under the “good, not great” category.

We ended on a great note, though, with our shared order of Dark Sticky Ginger Cake ($8) for dessert. Once again, the serving size allowed all four of us several forkfuls of cake, which, by the way, is topped with apple compote and whipped cream (probably freshly made). We all agreed the cake is very nice on its own — pretty much like the best gingerbread you’ve ever had, not too sweet, not too spicy and very moist — but it becomes spectacular when you ensure apple, cream, and cake are present on your fork. The apples combined with the cake create a unique flavor experience, and, well, whipped cream is always wonderful no matter what the context.

Hungry yet? We didn’t manage to get to the soups and salads just yet, but a great atmosphere, well curated menu, and fresh takes on classic eats will most definitely bring us back in to Grass & Bone.

Grass & Bone

24 East Main St, Mystic

(860) 245-4814, grassandbonect.com

Cuisine: Restaurant offers sandwiches, sides, salads and soups, frequently sourced from local farms; beer and wine available.

Atmosphere: Per its website, "grass & bone is a cozy, casual, counter service restaurant," and we concur. We settled in for quite some time at one of the shop's handful of thick, wooden tables, enjoying the laidback vibe, farmhouse-chic décor and, of course, the food.

Service: Efficient, friendly and helpful

Prices: Reasonable for the quality of the ingredients; the most expensive items on the menu are $12.

Hours: From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Accessibility: Interior isn't the biggest space, but it's not cramped either; no steps at entrance

Reservations: Not accepted

Credit cards: Accepted

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