Charleston’s trendy Upper King Street continues to surprise me. Points of culinary interest regularly arise, pushing the boundaries of the neighborhood to the brink and beyond. All the while, Charlestonians and gastro-tourists benefit. On my most recent annual trip to a favorite Southern city, Hominy Grill chef Robert Stehling suggested another place that was new to me, Butcher & Bee. The beyond-seasonal sandwich shop with global influences from Michael Shemtov, who owns two branches of Mellow Mushroom in town, opened in October near the rise of highway 17.
The space, set back from King Street near the Charleston Center for Photography, features concrete floors and a high ceiling with screened shelves built into reclaimed wood walls. Mismatched metal and chairs looked like they could have come from barber shops, hair salons and/or schoolhouses, adjoining communal wood tables. Butcher & Bee features an open kitchen backed by white tile and topped with a pressed tin ceiling. Out front, there’s a small planter-lined concrete patio.
Shemtov sells two sizes of Popcorn at Butcher & Bee, and of course we went with large ($3.50). Minutes later, our butcher paper cornucopia overflowed with savory popcorn seasoned with tangy vinegar, salt, and the key selling point: bacon fat, which coated but by no means overpowered the kernels.
My pick from Butcher & Bee’s rotating menu was the open-faced Chile Relleno ($12) torta topped with a jiggling 62-degree egg that washed yolk over a crispy deep-fried Poblano filled with oozing house-made Pimento cheese. The mild salsa Ranchera got some pop from garlic and spicy jalapeno, and the plate also hosted firm minced onion, sprigs of cilantro, and the component that made this a “sandwich,” a sturdy raft of chewy bread that soaked up yolk and salsa.
My brother and his wife both ordered the ham and Gruyere ($8) with honey on a round, cake-y brioche. My step mom Jane opted for a vegetarian Muffaletta with portabella mushrooms, roasted red pepper, eggplant, and olive salad on ciabatta. That’s a lot of sandwich firepower, but the first sandwich B&B 86’d from the blackboard involved Pulled Squash, BBQ sauce and smoked slaw.
Lemon-Nana sounded like it might be some kind of banana lemonade, but just contained lemons and mint.
Butcher & Bee is part of a new breed of sandwich shop, including Bunk Sandwiches in Portland, Fundamental LA in Los Angeles, and Naked Lunch in San Francisco, and even though Shemtov had only been open for a short time, he could already stand tall in that line-up.