PARTS & LABOR
2600 N. Howard Street, Baltimore, MD 21218 (http://partsandlaborbutchery.com/)
** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)
Spike Gjerde is fast becoming synonymous with Baltimore. The chef-owner of Woodberry Kitchen, the locally-sourced restaurant in Clipper Mill, opened his most recent offering, Parts & Labor, in Charles Village back in 2014. Little brother is housed in a former garage, features an open-flame hearth as the heart of the kitchen, and a retail shop which sells house-made sandwiches and fresh cuts of meat during the day. Parts & Labor, which butchers its own meat and serves in the same capacity for Woodberry, knows its way around the various cuts. It is this respect for meat-centric dishes, and the quality of the execution, which makes one legitimately question whether Parts & Labor is catching up to its well-reviewed sibling.
Having been to the restaurant on several occasions, my wife and I know what to generally expect: informed and polite service that leans a little more casual and friendly than Woodberry; dishes which use a wood-fired hearth to add both texture and smoky flavor; and house-butchered meats ranging from traditional cuts to offal. The restaurant uses wooden tables and booths, along with fleeced-lined chairs, to add warmth to its industrial exterior. Once seated, we are quickly greeted by our cheery waitress, along with bread and house-made pork lard in lieu of butter (if there was any doubt about the restaurant being a haven for meat lovers). Perusing the menu, the restaurant features a great deal of small dishes, sides, and charcuterie, along with larger cuts of meat and dinner plates. The menu encourages sharing, and given our experiences, the more dishes, the better.
Our meal begins with one of the aptly named “Snacks,” Chesapeake Canapes, which
are slices of country bread slathered with herbed butter and pepper jelly, then topped with smoked ham. The ham – adding both the salty and unctuous back notes – is well balanced with the sweet and sour jelly, and the earthy butter. Addictive. Given the butchery background, we select three meats from the smokehouse: Lomo, a salty, creamy pork; Basturma, a spiced, cured beef; and N’juda, the house specialty which takes seasoned pork and transforms it into a spread. The Lomo has the look and taste of a classic Italian ham, with the fat providing outstanding flavor and texture. The Basturma, although well seasoned, runs a bit lean to stand on its own. And the N’juda is by far the most interesting of the three: salty and spicy, it mimics the taste of chorizo without the casing.
As the meal moves along, we take part in the small plates, vegetables, and sausage. Korean Rib Cap brings forth the familiar flavors of bulgogi: soy, garlic, and ginger while replacing sesame with benne seeds, and providing the kitchen’s take on kimchi. The meat is tender
and juicy, while the lettuce wraps contrast nicely to the fat of the beef. It is a balanced ode that does justice to the original. The Kasekrainer, a cheese filled sausage, provides punch with its seasoning (reminding me of a Kielbasa) and the pop of the casing. But it runs a bit greasy between the pork and the cheese, and leaves us wondering if we would have been better off with another choice. The Cauliflower, meanwhile, makes good use of the hearth, adding a mild smoky flavor to the brown butter and [mostly unnecessary] breadcrumbs. But the dish to return for is by far the Pig Jowl. The pork cheeks here packed with flavor from fermented soft shell crabs, with supporting roles from peanuts, mint, and cilantro. The crab makes its appearance in the form of a sauce, creating a depth of flavor in the savory dish. The
fermented sauce along with the pickled daikon radish make for a nice Asian spin. Meanwhile the kitchen manages to keep the cheeks tender, while transforming the edges into a crisp chicarrone. It is the highlight of the night.
While Woodberry Kitchen may have been Gjerde’s initial foray into the local-first concept, Parts & Labor demonstrates that he is more than capable of carrying on that tradition as he expands his Baltimore empire. Bottom line: Parts & Labor does its family proud and proves why Gjerde is the best restauranteur in Charm City.
Atmosphere: The building – a retrofitted car garage – has been transformed into a restaurant whose prominent feature is an open-flame hearth. The hearth shows off the restaurant’s meat and plant-based offerings, as well as a counter for its charcuterie and cheese. Parts & Labor also has a small retail shop in the front of the restaurant which sells house-made sandwiches (think Italian hoagies, meatball subs, and pulled pork) and fresh cuts of meat during the day. The dining room pairs steel tables with wooden benches; the all-popular farmhouse chic feel. Service, meanwhile, is both knowledgeable and friendly: a more approachable staff than their high-minded big brother.
Noise: Moderate. Unlike many restaurants these days, Parts & Labor allows for conversations to be had…in a conversational tone! Even during busy nights and a packed house, there’s still an intimacy to the tables.
Recommended Dishes: Chesapeake Canapes, Pork Jowl, Korean Rib Cap, Lomo, Cauliflower
Reservations: Accepted. We have never had an issue finding a table, but the restaurant can get busy on the weekends.
$$$ – $50 to $100 for dinner for two