There’s one Brooklyn stereotype no one can argue about: the over-abundance of cafes and coffee shops. Despite that, the borough always seems to find room to accommodate one more. The latest addition, tucked just under the Williamsburg bridge, is Butler. And it’s offering a lot more than passably edible croissants and artisanal drip coffee. The kitchen is headed by Ryan Butler, a Michelin-starred pastry chef whose last gig saw him at pricey New American fusion outpost Piora.
Despite his background, Butler isn’t necessarily aiming to turn his eponymous cafe into a fine dining experience. “I’ve worked in restaurants for 17 years,” he explains, “This is somewhere I can focus on the products themselves rather than the business of serving people.” Co-founder Hugo Murray, who abandoned a job in advertising to help launch the eatery, feels similarly.
“You usually find cafes that either take their coffee very seriously or take their food really seriously. We’re trying to nail both. I think the key to that is they way Ryan takes techniques of the fine dining world and translates them into casual cafe fare. One of his big strengths is balancing the dishes,” continues Murray. Butler, for his part, says he wants his food to evoke memories of childhood and provide patrons with a familiar context even when using niche ingredients.
For instance, a dark chocolate brownie with concord grape jelly and black sesame cream was partially inspired by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Rich and multi-textured, it does give one a feeling deja vu and even if PB&J doesn’t immediately click, there is the feeling of something familiar. It was immediately clear that an incredible amount of thought went into Butler’s small menu so we stuck around to find out more about how some of the most popular food and drink items came together.
Intelligentsia Coffee & Tonic
The patrons decided to go with intelligentsia’s “Black Cat Analog” blend because of its full-bodied, slightly sweet and chocolatey flavor. They also liked that the brand was the first to do a single origin espresso and that it maintains a close relationship with sustainable farmers.
Valhrona Chocolate Brownie
The black sesame cream is made with mascarpone cheese, vanilla bean, lime zest, sugar and a little salt and black sesame paste. The concord grape jelly is house-made.
All of the white bread is house-made. The heirloom cherry tomatoes are tossed in a red wine vinaigrette and the bacon is cooked with fresh-cracked black pepper.
Passion Fruit & Lemon Tart
House-made passion fruit and lemon filling inside of a butter sable crust. The meringue is lightly toasted with everyones favorite tool: a chef’s torch.
The same way Ryan [Butler] is juxtaposing techniques of the fine dining world and translating that into casual cafe fare we’re seeking the same juxtaposition in the design. We have the industrial elements like the exposed concrete and polished concrete floor with modern bistro cues like the brass top tables, soft pink light fixtures and herringbone tile. Having the different elements really helps soften up the space. Before we got our hands on this site it was an ice cream factory for years and years. It was also a Turkish cigarette production facility before that.
“I worked on the brand identity with my friend, Billie-Anne Racine, who is a designer and brand specialist. We did five mood boards in total but the reason we chose this one is because the place is named after Ryan Butler and it’s similar to his signature. We thought having a personal touch felt really right and friendly for the space we’re in.”
My friend Jeremy Filgate designed and made the lighting fixtures by hand. He actually got spray paint from a store and matched it to the color of our takeaway cups. He really came into the space and chose some very site specific, unique designs.
With the plants we just wanted to warm it up a little since it’s such an industrial space. We think it gives things some grain and warmth. Soil actually absorbs noise as well and we’re right by the train so there’s that too.
95 South 5th Street at Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249
Don’t forget to also take a look at Shake Shack Japan’s Michelin-starred burger.
- Photography: Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety